Looking Back on the Harmonizer’s Participation at the 2017 Harmony University
There were 75 Harmonizers at HU on the campus of Belmont University in Nashville July 23-30, 2017!
By all counts it was a tremendously beneficial week for the chorus, the chapter and each of the singers. It will certainly rank high in the list of “Breathless Moments” in our chapter’s history.
The chapter musical leadership recommended this event for the chapter a couple years ago and we decided to do it and not go into the competition cycle. In preparation for our week, we learned three contest songs – two ballads and an uptune – for the coaches to work on with us.
Each guy paid his own way for the week and guys traveled over the weekend to be there for the opening session on Sunday nite, July 23rd. A number drove the 10-12 hour trip from the DC/Alexandria area either stopping en route to over nite or driving straight into Nashville on Sunday. Many took flights over the weekend. Some came with family for vacation time. One member drove his RV and parked nearby and was a commuter for the week.
Belmont University is meticulous about its grounds and the campus is extremely beautiful with many flowers and trees. The weather was very hot and muggy most days, but we were not outside all that often except when walking between classes.
The chorus was enrolled in a coaching pod and had four coaches assigned to us for the entire week: Kevin Keller, Cy Wood, Joe Hunter and Jordan Travis. They worked hard with us to shape and develop a musical and performance plan for the songs and created a plan for us to use for the upcoming district convention. By mid-week we settled on a ballad arranged by Brent Graham and the uptune arranged by Rasmus Krigstrom.
Each day at HU started with a general session we attended with the rest of the 700 HU folks – men and women barbershoppers from all over the USA and from 14 other countries. These morning sessions usually involved some instruction, teaching of a song and singing a tag. Then the chorus had a morning and an afternoon two-hour block of coaching time each day. The rest of the day the guys, like all the other attendees, took a variety of classes to improve themselves as singers, coaches, administrators, arrangers, quarteters, directors and leaders. One of our chapter quartets, SILVER ALERT with Rich Savage, Mike Edison, Will Cox and Steve Murane attended as many classes as possible as a quartet and were coached during the week when they could. Terry Reynolds was a faculty member in the leadership pod during the week. Mike Kelly was a staffer working on video productions during the general sessions and helping produce the shows on Friday and Saturday nites.
Our director Joe Cerutti helped us work with our coaches and apply the lessons they brought us to our music for contest and other songs. Chuck McKeever and Phil Ashford did videos of the coaching sessions so we could capture, for future use, all the pointers. Part of our last day session we talked as a group about how to integrate all we had learned into our program and how to help the 25 or so other guys, who could not attend, catch up.
This was the first time at HU for several members including 12-year-old Mickey Robertson who was a star all over campus. He was certified as an official “woodshedder” by the Ancient and Harmonious Society of Woodshedders (AHOW). He was the youngest attendee at HU and, for that distinction, won his own new pitch pipe from the barbershop Harmony Marketplace store (which was open in the cafeteria all week with t-shirts, caps, music and other barbershop gear plus umbrellas (for the couple times we had a little rain).
Meal time was great fun and often guys would sit with barbershoppers from all over the world and swap stories. But it was also a chance for our guys to sit together with their chapter friends to discuss the results of the day and the coaching pointers and swap stories about the chapter. In the evenings after classes were done, many of us would gather at the bars/restaurants across the street from Belmont for socializing and singing.
Monday evening we had a late-nite session with Theo Hicks, the lead of INSTANT CLASSIC. He spent time with us on of the ballad he had arranged for us.
On Wednesday morning we were up early and warmed up (Will Cox came out of retirement as our warm up guru for the week) so we could sing for that day’s general session and help demonstrate the meaning of the music judging category with Steve Tramack, David Wright, Kirk Young and Kevin Keller (all who have worked with us as arrangers and coaches in the past). We sang passages from our 1995 gold medal ballad, “I’ll Be Seeing You,” and from “Summertime.” At the end of the demonstration, Steve asked us to sing the entire ballad. The HU audience gave us enthusiastic cheers and congratulatory and thank you comments all week!
Another major event happened on Wednesday nite when Rob Mance spent a couple hours voice placing us on the risers – all new positions and a new concept for riser location. The idea is to put men whose voices share similar characteristics near each other on the risers, to create a more uniform sound. It took a while but the resulting sound difference was breathtaking! There were some laughs as each man sang “Row Row Row Your Boat” several times while Rob evaluated each man’s voice and place him accordingly.
There were many personal highlights during the week for Harmonizers – Alan Kousen was presented his 50-year Society membership pin by a staffer of Harmony Foundation International.
At the end of the week, president Randall Eliason presented each of our four coaches a black Harmo camp shirt with our logo on it and a Harmonizer lapel pin! They were seen wearing them later in the week too.
As is a tradition at HU, there was lots of ice cream to have each nite. Of course the chorus members were there for that and also some even were brave to climb the rock wall there in the student building. YeEd saw Masahisa Takahashi make it to the top. He and his dad, Antony, were with us on the risers all week. Don Thompson’s son Devon was at HU too and sang in the Next Generation chorus. Jack Cameron and Johan Westberg found time to sing in the Honors Chorus. Both of those special choruses learned songs in advance, were coached during the week and appeared on the Saturday nite show. Some of guys also found time to sing with the Brigade during the week.
Quartets and other groups attending HU appeared on the Friday nite show. A quartet called BARBERSHOP INSTANBUL appeared too. They were friends of Chuck Hunter when he was stationed there and had learned a lot of tags! They sang for us during our Tuesday nite session. At the end of the week, they shared how grateful they were for the freedom to come join in the larger world of barbershop.
On Saturday afternoon the chapter and chorus conducted a Master Class for any other HU students to attend. We sang the songs we had worked on all week, and Joe and Terry spoke about how we conduct a chapter meeting, what tools the music team uses to help the members, plus shared background about some of our activities over the past few years including Harvey Milk and our exploration of gospel music. Joe took a minute to show the demographics of the chorus when he asked for a show of hands for length of membership, for professional musicians, and for government or military men. President Randall Eliason spoke about our board and administration and the changes we had made over the past few years, including pioneering the idea of community board members. We used AV to help share video clips and slides, thanks to Terry and Jeff Burkey. As the end of the session we answered any questions.
The Harmonizers debuted their “Chicago” medley for the wildly enthusiastic HU audience near the end of the Saturday nite show. It was arranged by Steve Tramack. Kellen Hertz “sang” a trumpet solo in the introduction and Drew Wheaton from FOREFRONT sang a solo during”25 or 6 to 4.”
Also we surprised our fellow barbershoppers and had THE FAIRFIELD FOUR sing with us on that show. They came in to warm up with us back stage before the show and when we got to the tag of one of their songs we had sung, Joe welcomed them to the stage. We sang three gospel songs with them out front on the stage. It was a huge success and loved by all. It was great fun for all of the Harmonizers to see our Grammy award winning friends again – they performed with us in May and will be back in Alexandria for our fall show.
The Saturday nite show also featured gold medal quartets INSTANT CLASSIC and FOREFRONT, the honors chorus and the next generation choruses, and our M-AD friends, PRATT STREET POWER.
There were a number of former Harmonizers attending HU and they often stopped in to check on our progress. Also it was great to see many friends in the judging and coaching community during the week that have worked with us, or have even been Harmonizers. A good number of our men did some running or walking during the week to keep in shape – almost a losing battle with the great food and ice cream each day!
The chapter appreciates the work and effort by the HU staff, particularly Donny Rose and Antonio Lombardi, for helping us all prepare for our arrival and help us get the most out of the week. The campus has ideal classrooms for seminars or workshops as each is fully equipped with modern AV equipment. The buildings and dorms were air conditioned and had elevators.
After a late nite for many of us celebrating with our friends, we had to leave bright and early on Sunday morning because all HU students had to be off campus by 9 am. We headed for home by car or plane. Our guys were impressed to have BHS CEO Marty Monson on hand to bid farewell to each bus headed for the airport very early Sunday morning.
For certain we were worn out, but we were exhilarated over all we had learned and accomplished during HU week and eager to put it all into use going forward.
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 each week during the 70th year of the Alexandria Harmonizer Chapter. —YeEd