Sunday, April 22, 2007

Onstage with the VM

UPDATED 5/8 to add: Pictures from the Spring Show are now up at this link.

Saturday's Spring shows were my first appearance onstage with the Vocal Majority.

Mind you, when I say I was "onstage" with them, I mean it in only the most literal sense. I helped push a grand piano out to center stage for an appearance by "Liberace," and then helped remove it afterwards. That's right, I was a stage hand -- but it was still a blast.

After the final show, I was in full rookie "grunt work" mode, collecting pocket squares, sweeping the dressing rooms for trash and any stray costume pieces, and then loading the tuxes, sets, etc. onto VM's truck. The show ended around 10:10 p.m., and I and the other rookies were done about an hour-and-a-half later. Tiring, but not too bad.

The guys in the group are so encouraging. Many of them, including director Jim Clancy himself, came offstage, shook my hand, and said that I could/would/should be onstage next time -- presumably meaning more than pushing a piano! That made me feel pretty good. I also have had several men console me as I labored after the show, saying things like, "Don't worry, we've all had to go through this," and "All the hard work is worth it."

I'd smile and thank them for the encouragement, but... honestly it isn't necessary. You see, my dirty little secret is -- I love the grunt work. Being backstage at a show like this is an incredible experience in and of itself. You get to hear the show, soak in the audience response, and even contribute in a small way. (There were several of us rookies backstage singing along from time to time!) And hey, unlike the men on the risers, I occasionally got to sit down during the show! Even the post-show work is fun in its own way.

I've worked most of the positions in various (pre-VM) shows -- from lead roles to chorus positions as a performer, and stage hand and tech crew backstage. Each has its own rewards. Mind you, the goal now is to get onstage (for the whole show!) and perform as a fully-qualified member of the Vocal Majority, and I haven't lost sight of that at all. But I find I'm also enjoying the path that it takes to get there.

Monday, April 16, 2007

TOP NINE: Vocal Majority surprises

As you've read here, I am a new member of The Vocal Majority, a mindbogglingly successful and entertaining men's pops chorus. (Even if you didn't read it here, if you're around me at all then you know, since I can hardly bring myself to shut up about it.) I thought I knew a lot about the group, but what I've seen so far has opened my eyes. And so, The World of Wombat presents...

From the great minds at the Wombat Institute for Socio-Economic Research and Short-Order Cooking School:

Top Nine surprising things about the Vocal Majority:

9. So far, Jerry Falwell hasn’t attended a single rehearsal. (Note: He wasn't dead when this was posted. It kind of takes away from the humor now that he's gone, doesn't it?)

8. Twenty percent of the initial audition is Canadian football trivia.

7. Long-time members have poor posture due to the weight of the many gold medals around their necks.

6. Rookies are required to sleep in their tuxedos for the first year.

5. Good-natured ribbing between the voice parts sometimes escalates into knife fights.

4. Most of choreography training is spent watching old episodes of “Solid Gold.”

3. Official all-purpose flour of the Vocal Majority: Gold Medal.

2. There is NO number two! (Well, just once, in 1978, but not since.)

And the number one surprising thing about the Vocal Majority:

1. No satanic rituals are involved in VM's success; they just sing really well!

Friday, April 13, 2007

VM Notes (wordplay intended)

I really can't fully explain what is happening here. Last night's Vocal Majority rehearsal was a rough one for me physically -- it began with my first hour-long rookie choreography lesson at 6:00, followed by the regular 3-1/2 hour practice, standing on risers the whole time as usual. At the 10-minute break, when I'd normally go sit and rest my feet, I was instead chasing down the signatures I need as a new member (as I contact the various people responsible for adding me to the roster, getting me on the member email list, getting me a name badge ordered, etc.). Add to that tearing down the risers at the end of practice (my job as long as I am a rookie), plus the fact that Vocal Majority logoI hadn't eaten before coming to rehearsal (never again!), and then standing around for 15-20 minutes afterwards just singing some impromptu barbershop with a few of the guys (fun!), I was on my feet for all but about 5 minutes out of 5 hours! I was really hurting by the end of it all last night...

...and yet this morning I feel great. I can't explain it -- but I love it!

I am officially a member of the Vocal Majority now. I've completed all five steps of "phase one" -- passing the audition, being signed off by director Jim Clancy, checking in with the "Rookie Coordinator," being approved by the Board of Directors (I was interviewed at their meeting on Monday night), and submitting my membership application and dues. Phase two consists of ten administrative steps, including getting assigned an official position on the risers, getting my own copies of music and practice CDs, and the various sign-ups mentioned above. Phase two also includes the choreography and vocal training, and learning the VM's entire current repertoire, with emphasis on fifteen or so "core songs." When I am ready (meaning perfect or darn near close, from what I gather!), I will have a qualification audition. Only when I pass that will I be able to perform with the group.

There were several really enjoyable moments for me last night, not least of which was being able to sit on the risers as a member during the "halftime" announcements, rather than stepping down to be introduced as a guest. I also witnessed, for the first time, some members become riser-qualified. Five or six guys were pulled out during rehearsal for their qualifying attempt, and apparently they are not told at the time whether they passed. At the end of rehearsal, directors Jim and Greg Clancy stepped forward with an announcement, and Greg held out a small, dark blue velvet drawstring bag. The guys in the group starting getting excited for this -- I of course was clueless as to what was going on at first. Greg announced a man's name and held out the bag to him, and the rest of the group cheered wildly as he stepped out to claim it. I figured out at that point that he had qualified, but I had to ask a veteran member what was in the bag.

It contained his cuff links, for the new performance tuxedo he will soon be wearing.

Two other men were announced in the same manner. Also, two others passed their initial audition, so I am no longer the newest member.

One final note (A#?)... One thing about I've learned about the group made me laugh. I knew when I joined I'd be considered a "rookie" for a while, and have extra set up/tear down responsibilities. What I didn't know was how long I'd be a rookie. I thought maybe until I passed the qualifying audition, or maybe for a full year. Wrong. The group is so accustomed to winning the international gold medal every three years that new members are rookies until they "get their own gold medal" -- in other words, until they are a part of the group when they next win! (I was specifically told it doesn't count if I just steal someone else's!) So... it looks like I'm a rookie until the summer of 2009!

Friday, April 06, 2007

Vocal Majority - Step One

A few weeks ago, I wrote of my first visit to a Vocal Majority rehearsal ("Chords that ring forever") and what a thrill it was to be able to add my voice to their best-in-the-world sound. (Not an exaggeration -- an unparalleled eleven international gold medals, including gold the last ten times in a row they've been eligible to compete!) Well, I'm hooked. Since that article, I've been to several more rehearsals, and last night I took the plunge and auditioned.
The Vocal Majority's 2006 Gold Medal performance on YouTube

I've auditioned many times in my life, for various choirs, solos, theatrical roles, etc., and I can say without a doubt that I've never had an audition as demanding and intense as the Vocal Majority's. They say that maybe one in five people pass on the first try. (It certainly didn't help my confidence last night when the man escorting me to the audition room told me, "This is the route you'll take from now on when we come get you to audition." Come get me... again??? I asked him if it was a multi-part process, and he said, "No, it just takes most guys three or four auditions to get in." Yikes!)

I did not time the audition, but it was at least thirty minutes in length, quite possibly forty-five -- all of it one on one with the auditioner, Wes, who sat at a piano while I stood. Besides the usual checking of my vocal range, I was asked to match pitch; duplicate 3- and 4-note sequences with some very odd intervals; find the baritone note in various chords (the most difficult for me, especially the tight clusters!); improvise harmony (both above and below the melody) on a known song; then improvise harmony on a new, previously unknown melody (Wes played a chord and sang the melody twice, and then I had to sing with him); and finally clap out a variety of rhythms of increasing difficulty.

All that, Wes told me, was to see if I could sing baritone. But the audition wasn't over -- I then had to show I could sing baritone the VM way. I had to sing one song twice using different emotions -- heartrendingly sad and joyous. (My limited theatrical experience helped quite a bit here!) For the last part (there's more?!), Wes wanted me to sing without vibrato -- a key to the VM (and much barbershop) sound so the pitch can be kept pure and bring out the overtones and undertones in each chord. And, oh yes, the piece he wanted me to sing without vibrato was "The Star-Spangled Banner." Nothing like trying to tackle the extremes of our national anthem at the end of an already long day of singing!

He seemed satisfied, though, and told me right away I had passed. YAY! At that point, it was 10:30 at night, and the group's practice was winding down. As we rode the elevator back down to the rehearsal hall, the group was finishing up singing their powerful arrangement of "The Holy City." I walked into the room to a chorus of "Hosannas" -- literally! It matched the joy I was feeling quite well!

And so as of last night I am... still not part of the group. But I've taken the first step. After an interview next Monday with their Board of Directors (and hopefully a vote of approval), I will be able to pay my dues and be an official member of the Vocal Majority. THEN comes a LOT of work, because I have to learn their entire repertoire of music and lots of choreography -- and pass yet another audition -- before I am certified to perform with them in public. Hey, like I said, they are the best in the world. I'd be disappointed if they didn't have high standards.

But I can at last join them in saying (as they do at the end of each practice, right after singing "Keep the Whole World Singing"), "it's great to be a barbershopper"!!!

BTW... now that I'm (almost) a member of the group... Tickets are now on sale to the Vocal Majority Spring Show, "VM Las Vegas," to be held at the Eisemann Center in Richardson, TX, on April 20-21! Get yours at!