Our two lines of VM members walk quickly and quietly to a double set of wide stairs at the side of the stage, where we stop. A handful of guys go on to the stage with a couple of “pre-boarding” tasks – putting up a black curtain on the center rail of the risers, so that when the chorus parts halfway through “Sweet Georgia Brown” the back rail won’t be visible or distracting, and to mark a couple of places on the stage with tape for the front row choreo.
Above us is the back of the stage right rear-projection screen. Someone is being presented with an award or recognition of some sort during the time between choruses. I remember seeing something in the program about that. I make a mental note to look up later who or what it was and file it away. My focus is on the performance now.
We’re given the signal to take the stage. We climb the steps and take our places on the risers without delay, but without needless hurry, either. The curtain is closed, of course, but the audience’s presence is unmistakable. There is a palpable buzz of conversation and anticipation from the thousands seated in the crowd, and many of them, hundreds perhaps, start clapping in unison to show their excitement for the performance to come.
Once we are in place, the contest drill begins, just like we’ve rehearsed it dozens, hundreds of times before. Jeff, pitch pipe, “Ooo,” “Georgia” faces, pitch pipe, smile of satisfaction from Jeff, he takes the risers. Phil, smiles, set in chorus position, heads turned down the tile. We are beaming and smiling at the curtain. Let’s do this!
The stage manager then steps from the curtain to the middle of the chorus and messes up the routine by giving us a brief, well-intentioned but completely unnecessary pep talk. It pulls our attention away from the audience, so Phil comes back out. Smiles, set in chorus position, heads turned down the tile. Now let’s do this!
The signal is given to the emcees. “Our next competitor is ready, so close the doors and take your seats!” I’ve heard these words a thousand times, in dreams and daydreams, over the past two years. Now I’m hearing them for real, along with the deafening screams of thousands of cheering barbershoppers on the other side of the curtain.
I’m having to blink away some tears in the midst of the ear-to-ear smiling.
“Representing the Southwestern District, under the direction of Jim Clancy, The Vocal Majority!!”
Stage hands pull the curtain open in front of us. The dark vastness of the Honda Center stretches before us. I only thought the screaming was deafening before. It’s gotten louder.
I smile and beam, accepting the applause. In the corner of my eye, I see Jim Clancy step forward, his arms sweeping out to the crowd, reaching out as if to embrace them. In a twinkling, Jim is turning back into us. We reset. The pitch blows. We pour love and passion in to Georgia on My Mind before a note is sung.
As the song begins, there’s very little distraction. I note consciously that the stage is a little deader than I expected, and adjust my response to what I hear accordingly. The risers are also quite a bit back from the front of the stage, meaning the audience is farther away, and the natural instinct is to want to sing louder to compensate. I note that as well and make sure I’m not over-singing. After those minor details, I just focus on moving and responding with Jim Clancy’s direction, and pouring every bit of emotion I can muster into the song.
The notes swell, the chords ring, the passion flows to the audience. Seven thousand people are silent, spellbound as we sing. Then they begin to cheer as we pour the volume into the ending.
The fake ending. We sweep on into the real tag, making it soar to even higher levels. It’s everything we wanted it to be – and we’ve been in front of Jim Clancy enough to know when he is satisfied with our performance. As the song comes to an end, we can tell he’s not just satisfied, he’s elated.
We smile and beam, beam and smile. And we’re only halfway into the set! We know what’s coming – this crowd hasn’t seen anything yet!