Friday, July 03, 2009

The Ambassadors of Harmony

As the evening wears on, we’re treated to quality chorus after quality chorus. It’s really delightful to relax and enjoy being entertained.

One of my favorite performances is by The Alliance, from Ohio. They first sing the song “Cheer Up Charlie” from Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. They are dressed in dreary overcoats with a bleak London setting in their backdrop, as chorus members who resemble Grandpa Joe and Charlie act out the song. It’s well-done and touching.

But they shine when they hit their uptune, a medley of other songs from the movie, including “Pure Imagination,” “Candy Man,” and even the “Oompa Loompa Song.” As a chorus member portraying Willy Wonka guides Grandpa Joe and Charlie to the front of the platform, a large, chocolate-colored banner fifteen feet high is carried across the stage, rippling from right to left. As it passes, the chorus is transformed behind it – no more dreary overcoats, they’re suddenly in brightly colorful outfits, and the backdrops have changed to candy-factory neons and swirls of colors and patterns. It’s spectacular.

Our emcees for the contest are John & Larry Gassman, two brothers who are blind. They keep the contest moving and are very entertaining. Much of their humor flows from their sightlessness: “Once again, let me remind you that there is no flash photography. You’re blinding us up here!” or “Do you know how a blind skydiver can tell when he’s about to hit the ground? Sudden slack in his guide dog’s leash.”

One by one the choruses roll by. Some are good. Some are very, very good. All are entertaining. But there are two events on the schedule that every man in the Vocal Majority is waiting for. First is the performance of the Ambassadors of Harmony. Second is the announcement of the results. Everything else pales in importance.

I mark the time by posting updates every hour on Facebook: “Three hours until the contest results.” “Two hours until the contest results.” “About one hour until the results!”

Finally it’s time for the Ambassadors, who are 26th in the lineup out of 29 choruses. It’s a choice spot for them, especially since the VM’s performance may have faded from the memory of the judges. But the order of the appearance is done by random draw, so we can’t quibble. Besides, we’re pretty confident that no other chorus can reach the level we have.

The Ambassadors come out in all-black outfits. There’s some sparkle in their vests, but it’s a pretty unexciting look overall. They start into their ballad, “If You Love Me, Really Love Me.” It’s gorgeous. I’m not familiar with the song, but they are nailing it, and expressing the emotion perfectly. There’s not a bad face among the entire chorus.

Still, it doesn’t grab me, and I’m more confident than ever about our chances when they finish.

Next is their uptune, “Seventy-Six Trombones.” Okay, this song I know.

Once again, their performance is flawless, with lots of movement and energy. But I’m resting easier with every minute of their set. I’m enjoying it immensely, but I just don’t think it has what it takes to put them past us.

And then…

At a crucial moment in the song, a quartet steps forward and sings a line, as a cylindrical cloth “changing booth” is raised center stage. When it drops, Ambassadors director Jim Henry is suddenly dressed head to toe in a dazzling silver and orange drum major outfit – a sharp and surprising contrast to the all black moments before. And eight chorus members are dressed completely in shiny orange band uniforms – they materialize seemingly out of nowhere. It’s breathtaking.

I have just enough time to think, “Okay, they put a few guys in there with some color on, which is impressive, but the rest of the chorus is still in black…” when on a musical cue, the vest of every last member in the chorus, 160 of them, turns from black to sparkling orange. Instantly. Right in front of us. It’s like they flip a switch and color explodes across the stage in the blink of an eye.

Musical instruments begin to appear, and suddenly it seems that every chorus member is holding one. Okay, even from this distance it’s clear they’re not real instruments, but having them all appear is still impressive.

Throughout, their singing is amazing. The Ambassadors finish strong, and the performance sucks every person in the audience from his seat, me included. It is superlative. Their standing ovation lasts forever.

And for the first time, I begin to worry about VM’s “lock” on the gold medal.

Watch the Ambassadors of Harmony's
amazing performance of "Seventy-Six Trombones":

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