Monday, March 31, 2008

VM, competition... and me!

I had a new experience with the Vocal Majority this weekend, one for which the group is perhaps most well-known, but which involves only a fraction of the group's time -- competition! The VM is known worldwide for having won the gold medal in the Barbershop Harmony Society's international chorus competition an unparalleled eleven times, the last ten in a row, but in reality most of the group's time is focused on other things: primarily shows, concerts, or new CDs. Competing keeps the group sharp, but entertaining is much more the heart of the chorus.

In the BHS, when you win the international chorus championship you are not eligible to try for it again for another three years. Because the VM won its eleventh gold in 2006, the earliest we can compete for it again is in the summer of 2009, but the cycle of competitions leading to that opportunity begins well in advance -- first at the Division level, then the District, and then onto the International. This weekend's competition in Oklahoma City was the Division contest that leads to the District contest in October, and then eventually to the 2009 international stage, to be held in Anaheim, California.

Since I'm new to the VM, and to the barbershop world as a whole, it was my first time to compete. It was a very interesting experience. I guess the most shocking thing to me was this: we work as a chorus (and individually) for months on every aspect of our two competition songs -- every vowel and consonant sound, every step, every hand motion, every turn of the head, every emotion, every facial expression, every little subtle nuance, from curtain up to curtain down, over and over and over -- and yet the actual competition is over in a flash. We got onto the risers, were introduced, the curtain came up, and it seems like the next thing I knew, the curtain was down and we were walking off stage.

I vaguely remember performing, but the entire experience felt like it was over in thirty seconds. It's amazing that on those relatively fast flashes of time every three years hang the evaluation and reputation of the group. How incredible.

Brandon came with me for the trip, due mainly to a paperwork mistake that kept him out of a district science fair competition that he'd earned a place in, but I was happy to have him along. He had been wanting to go anyway, so it all worked out. We left at 3:30 Saturday morning and drove straight to Oklahoma City for an 8:00 chorus call. The competition was from 10:00 to 12:30, then we had the afternoon free. We drove 40 miles to the east to take a quick tour of the campus of Oklahoma Baptist University, which I attended for a year and a half. It Brandon's first time to see it, and my first time back in almost 24 years.

Then we went back to Oklahoma City, checked in at our hotel, and crashed for a couple of hours before returning to the contest venue for the evening's "Show of Champions." VM was the closer, performing five songs (which turned into six when an unplanned encore was demanded -- good thing we keep a lot of songs active!) to end the show. Brandon and I finished our looooooong day with an almost-midnight dinner at the Cheesecake Factory, and then headed back to our hotel. We drove home Sunday morning.

All in all, a very interesting, tiring, and satisfying trip. I'm sore as I always am after a VM performance, because of the power and intensity we pour into every move -- a point driven home by the fact that I now have an obvious bruise on my right wrist at the exact spot where my arms collide on a choreography move we do on Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho, a song we sang only twice, once in rehearsal and once on stage. I don't have much time to rest up, though, as VM is busy preparing for our Spring Show, Best of Broadway, in less than three weeks.

Oh, and the competition? Yes, we won our Division, scoring 1105 points out of a possible 1200, for an average per judge per song of 92.1 out of a 100. That's an awesome score at the Division level, and we're glad for it, but we're also still working on improving. It's been said in the VM that we don't really try to compete against other choruses; we compete against the 100. That's the score we work for.

So, I'm no longer a "competition virgin," and more amazing (and reassuring) to me, the VM is still able to do well in competitions even with me in the group! Next stop: the SWD competition in Little Rock in October!

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