Looking Back on the 2016 International Contest and Convention, Nashville
Amazing numbers of current and former members of the Alexandria Chapter were at the 78th annual BHS International Convention and Contest in Nashville, TN, July 3-11, 2016. All were there to sing together, rehearse, compete, work and volunteer, attend meetings, cheer for our friends from M-AD, meet old friends and hang out with each other.
And the always-competitive Harmonizer chorus returned to the International stage with 103 singers with our director Joe Cerutti. Our ballad was “Yesterday” and our uptune was “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” - both arranged by David Harrington. Our package included a tribute to director Emeritus Scott Werner. We earned 2689 points, 89.6% and a sixth place finish!
We have competed at 26 International chorus contests since our first one in 1978 when we placed fourth.
The Harmonizer convention week and rehearsals began on Tuesday evening at the Omni when the huge Harmo family started arriving in Nashville. Many drove and some took flights. Some guys combined the trip with family vacations.
We got started right at 7:30 pm. Chuck McKeever set the mood by playing “We Will Rock You” which the guys clapped to as they mounted the risers. The entire Harmo family was on hand for the first gathering. There was a lot of excitement with folks having had to get off flights or find parking, get settled in the room, and see who made it so far. As usual there were a number of crews at work such as Mike Kelly, Dennis Ritchey and Doug White who kept the sound equipment running for all the rehearsals and performances. Casey Belzer and Ken Henderson drove the Harmo truck to TN and Brian Ammerman had riser crews ready to set up and take down as needed. Doug and Bob Blair helped as load masters. It was not until Thursday when all 103 of us were on the risers since some guys could not get off work all week, or some guys were working at the convention or competing in quartets.
Director Joe was busy managing the BHS Youth Quartet Contest on Tuesday as part of his duties as a Society staff member. That event lasted until midnite, so associate director Tony Colosimo warmed us up and directed us for the evening. Choreographer Carlos Barillo did a lot of work in the early part of the evening with blocking and placement of the guys on the floor during the ballad. Coach Cindy Hansen arrived and helped with choreo too.
Chapter communications director Scipio Garling gave out promotional pins plugging Sgt. Pepper’s logo to all members, family and friends with the intent to spread them far and wide at the convention.
Before we ended, Australian quartet THE MELLOW DINERS cane by to sing for us. Alex Morris, who was host on the webcast, sings tenor. He has visited the Harmonizer rehearsals in VA.
On Wednesday morning we were back in our rehearsal space in the Omni at 8 am. Tony did the warm ups and when Joe arrived we did drills on transitions in the package.
Past president of BHS, Shannon Elswick, addressed the chorus after our first run-through of the set. He had kind words to say about the chapter and its leadership.
There are many Harmonizer traditions during International convention week. One special one is the surprise of the director. And this year was no exception. On signal, the first time doing the ballad intro, the chorus jumped into singing “Sticks and Stones” instead of the correct “Yesterday” words. It got Joe for sure. And Shannon had a good laugh too!
The TAKE FOUR quartet from Barbershop in Germany (BinG) also came by to sing for us and renew friendships made when they were with us in VA for the send off concert a few weeks ago. We were also proud of the BinG chorus HEAVY MEDAL which sang on major shows during convention week.
When the chorus broke for the nite, the basses met with section leader Tom Jackson and the front row worked on their routine. Throughout the week the front row reported a half hour early or stayed an extra half hour to work on their routines.
The quarter finals round of the quartet contest was on Wednesday. We had two quartets in the contest with Harmonizer members. DA CAPO with Ryan Griffith, Tony Colosimo, Joe Sawyer and Andrew Havens. They placed 10th. LAST MEN STANDING placed 30th with TJ Barranger, Drew Feyrer, Ed Bell and Mike Kelly. The other M-AD quartets were ROUTE 1 with former Harmonizer Scott Disney who placed 19th; GIMME FOUR that placed 24th; FRANK THE DOG placed 28th; UP ALL NIGHT placed 31st. The youth quartet from M-AD won that contest – PRATT STREET POWER from the Hershey area.
FOREFRONT from Cardinal District won the quartet gold medals on Saturday nite. LEMON SQUEEZY from SNOBS won second. MAIN STREET from Sunshine District with our coach Tony DeRosa won third again. SIGNATURE from FL who were the coaches for our chapter’s youth harmony weekend, placed fourth. Former member Sean Devine sang in THROWBACK that placed fifth.
Wednesday afternoon the chorus met a second time for that day from 3-5 pm. Former director Scott Werner had arrived earlier in the afternoon thanks to our chapter AH Inc. board member Liz Birnbaum who got him from the airport to the Omni. Scott arrived in the practice hall to rousing applause.
Joe had us singing tags as a warm up and then we went right to work on the package. As was true during every rehearsal, there were a lot of guys in the room to hear and see us from other choruses. Last year’s champ chorus, Westminster, sent two guys to bring the traditional gift from the outgoing champ to each guy on the stage for the chorus contest. This year was guitar picks.
At the end of the evening, the Voices of Gotham chorus arrived and we did our set for them. Then they did their set for us.
We left right away to catch DA CAPO at 5:30.
Thursday July 7th rehearsal started at 9 am. Tony warmed up the chorus and promptly gushed like a school girl when he realized he was directing Scott Werner on the risers. That got a big laugh. We also got our first look at the costume that was created for Scott – a lavender long coat with lots of appliqués and epaulets.
We drilled the set until about 10:30 am when the Vocal FX chorus from New Zealand came to visit. Don Dillingham brought our special group of guys down who had been practicing the HAKKA for the last few months. The guys from FX came down to the front and faced our HAKKA team for a reply. It was stunning. We were all impressed.
Afterwards we did our set for them and then switched places on the risers so they could perform. Before their set, their director Charlotte Murray expressed how much the HAKKA meant to her and the chorus. She said no group had ever taken the time to learn a HAKKA before. She expressed her emotions about it.
We broke for the morning to enjoy the semi-finals quartet round. Then everyone hurried back for the evening rehearsal at 4 pm.
Joe started right away without a warm up. He gathered the whole chorus into a tight circle twice during this rehearsal to talk about self confidence and “believing” in what we are singing.
About 5 pm, the Brothers of Harmony from NJ arrived. Their director Jack Pinto spoke about the Harmonizer history before they did their set for us. And we did our set for our fellow M-AD guys.
In the evenings during the week, many of us adjourned to socialize with our friends in the Harmo Hideaway. Good crowds made it there each nite to the suite hosted by Jeri White and Dennis Ritchey, with Craig and Ken Rub whose room we used. Thanks to those who helped finance the suite or made contributions for goodies.
Another important tradition for our chapter is the Togetherness Breakfast to start the day of competition. President Randall Eliason was emcee for the 8 am gathering. The menu was typical eggs, bacon, sausage, pastries and more. As is the tradition, many former members attended along with all members and their family and friends. Jacob George, Steve Murane, Bob Rhome and Al Herman helped distribute breakfast tickets to members and guests prior to the event.
Randall recognized several folks including Craig Kujawa who was convention director and helped us all get there, get info we needed, organized all aspects of the week and coordinated the many other Harmo volunteers who made things happen. Kudos to Craig from all of us. Robyn Murane was thanked for her work on the tear-away costumes, Rick Savage for his help with fitting uniforms, and to the many family members who helped sew uniform parts during the wee. Bob Rhome collected preregistration monies from all of us and got the $35,000 in the bank! Chuck McKeever with help from others guys including Bruce Minnick coordinated our annual retreat.
Randall made some opening remarks, including speaking about Harmonizer confidence and also did speak about our Harmonizer schedule after Nashville such as our singing at the fall contest in Lancaster, PA, and our fall show called Revolution, and our upcoming holiday show.
After breakfast, there was the final bandana check for the Class of 2016 (they have been wearing a wildly colorful scarf since our retreat in May). Casey Belzer, their president, gave a rousing talk based on a new guy’s perspective. This year’s class of guys who have never sung on the International stage with us before included tenors: Jay Sorenson, Masahisa Takahashi; leads: Casey Belzer, Jason Lee, Art Medici; baris: Jeff Burkey, Jim Kirkland, Antony Takahashi; basses: Tim Cash, Matt Doniger, Tom Jackson, Steve Spar. At the end of Casey’s talk he tore his bandana into strips and invited his classmates to do the same and share the piece with other members of the chorus to take onto the stage.
There were two Special Forces guys who sang with us in Nashville and who had made over-and-above efforts to travel and be with us for preparation – Mike Geipel – from Richmond, and Mike Fasano – from Delaware.
Randall noted the members who have been Harmonizers the longest and shortest number of years: Scott Werner since 1964 was the longest; second was Rick Savage since 1974. The newest members on the risers were Jason Lee and Masahisa Takahaski, both of whom became members on May 10th. Randall also saluted the oldest member on the risers, Dick Dangel, and the youngest, Masahisa Takahashi, and noted that we had a 67-year age spread of men singing on the risers.
Coach and friend of all the chorus members, Cindy Hansen, gave a confidence building talk and thanked Carlos for his choreography and Chuck for helping us realize the vision.
Honored guest Scott Werner spoke about each singer’s part in the plan for success.
Director Joe made a fantastic presentation to motivate each man and inspired us all.
Halfway thru Joe’s talk, BHS CEO Marty Monson stopped in and spoke briefly to thank the chapter for all its contributions to the Society.
Right after the breakfast, we switched into rehearsal mode with Tony doing the warm up. We had a surprise visit from our coach Tony DeRosa who fired us up too.
After Joe’s last pep talk, we adjourned to get into our uniforms for the contest package – black suits, shoes, and narrow black ties. Several of the front row guys wore Velcro-rigged black suit and tie outfits over wildly color jackets that appeared after the ballad as we launched into the uptune. Joe had a wild coat too that he changed into on stage. Scott actually sang the ballad with us, then sat down on the back riser and changed into his purple coat to rise at the point in the uptune when we parted the chorus on the risers to introduce him.
We boarded the busses and headed to the Bridgestone Arena for the contest. Chorus manager Mark Klostermeyer helped get us lined up for the travel. Greg Tepe came with us to work with the contest stage video crew to call the cues for our performance. The chorus members got to hear nearly all of the choruses since we sang early. Most returned to the Omni to change, grab some food and get back for the second half of the contest. Then as scores were being totaled, Westminster – 2015 champs, did their swan song.
As is also the tradition, the Harmonizer guys had gathered around their Harmo seating block, even if they had been sitting in other spots in the hall, to be together for the results announced by the contest officials – who as it turns out included our own Chris Buechler who was contest administrator.
Finally we got the contest results and cheered and applauded the other choruses for their successes. We had no time to waste and returned to the Omni to practice for our Saturday class presentation.
The Ambassadors in Harmony chorus won the contest with 96.8%. Our friends from Central Standard were second with 95.2%. Masters of Harmony was third. Toronto Northern Lights was fourth. Denver Sound of the Rockies, with our own TJ Donahue on the risers, was fifth.
On Saturday the chorus regrouped for our special presentation as part of the Harmony University (HU) classes. We did a presentation about our work on “I Am Harvey Milk” earlier in the year. We had guests Cy Wood (a friend from the Voices of Gotham) who sang the Harvey Milk solos; Heather Krones (a member of CLASS RING – an SAI quartet that has sung for us) did the female solos; and a pianist from Vanderbilt University.
The actual class was on Saturday at noon. A large crowd attended and cheered wildly for the messages, the testimonies for some of our singers, and the explanation of how this project has affected our chapter. Thanks to Matt Doniger for transporting the digital keyboard we rented in Nashville for this event.
Member John Santora also taught a HU class for chapter treasurers during the week.
During Saturday nite’s Spectacular show, we all heard fellow Harmonizer Martin Banks announced as inductee into the PROBE Hall of Honor (PROBE is an organization for public relations officers and bulletin editors.) Martin was chosen for his huge amounts of pr work for BHS and our chapter. Two other Harmonizers have been so honored – Wilbur Sparks and Terry Jordan.
Saturday nite we joined other M-AD chapters – Hershey and Brothers in Harmony - to host a hospitality room.
It was great to see Harmonizer family members’ pictures in the convention’s daily bulletins!
Early in the week, Dick Powell from M-AD was elected a Society executive vice president. John Santora attended board meetings as a member of the body. Dennis Ritchey participated in district president meetings and Chris Buechler attended contest and judging committee meetings. Rick Taylor is now on the staff of Harmony Foundation International (HFI). Chuck Harner is a member of the board of trustees for the HFI.
There were several Harmonizers who actually sang with other choruses in the contest. Marvin Evans actually sang with us and with the THX chorus from FL. Pookie Dingle sang with Hershey. John Adams sang with Carolina Vocal Express.
There were a lot of Harmonizers who were not in this year’s competition chorus who we saw during the week and not mentioned earlier in this article (here’s hoping we got everyone’s name!). Many of them were frequent visitors at rehearsals. The list includes Bill Colosimo, Bill Conway, Darryl Flinn, Tom Gannon, Al Herman, Ross Johnson, Dave Ellis, Alan Lamson, Dick Newton, Bert Phillips, Jim Shoenhard, Ken White, Bob Wilson, Lew Klinge, Jim McConnell, JT Price, Bob Eckman and Eric Wallen.
And it was great to see the many former members who were in attendance. Some competed in the chorus contests such as Lou Berger (Hamilton and Toronto choruses); Jay Buttefield, Sean Devine, Fred Womer, Mike Vilcej ( Hershey); Ray Johnson (Masters); Gary Plaag and Mark Rodda (Carolina Vocal Express); Paul Wietlisbach (Nashville); Spencer Wight (Voices of Gotham). Dave Binetti is chief engineer of the new contest scoring program. Dwain Chambers named a judge emeritus. Ryan Killeen is on the HFI staff. Richard Lewellen was a judge for the youth quartet contest. Plus Steve Guy, Bob Hirsh, Jim Lake, Mike Louque, John Rettenmeyer, Mark Samuels, Steve Tramack, Glenn Williamson, Chuck Botts and Bob Caldwell.
Altho it is not the same, some of us were able to watch the contest back in Virginia via webcast. John Smith had to stay home to recover from gall bladder surgery. Rich Payton hosted a viewing for Walt Page and Jack Pitzer who was also recovering from gall bladder surgery. Jack was to receive his 50-year membership pin in Nashville at a special ceremony honoring BHS men who had hit the golden year mark. Thanks to Joe Cerutti for accepting it on Jack’s behalf.
Many thanks to Clark Chesser for taking great notes and forwarding them to YeEd for this year’s report. And thanks to Dixie Kennett, Keith Jones and Alan Wile for contributing additional info too. Dixie’s work on our Harmo convention handbook was much appreciated.
It is Great to Be a Harmonizer!
Until next time – editorjack!
(This message is prepared for your review if you were there, for your information if you had to miss, and as a historical record of the great things going on during the 68th year of the Alexandria Harmonizer Chapter. —YeEd.)