Wednesday, July 01, 2009


Our contest set runs about ten minutes total, which is long for such a set. It’s on purpose – we want to bowl the audience over with a sensory-overload performance that will have them talking long after it’s over.

Those ten minutes cause a physical contradiction for me every time. They are at once draining, since we pour so much energy into every note, move, and expression, and energizing, because the adrenaline “buzz” of performance is very invigorating. We’ll all crash later, exhausted, but right now we’re pumped up.

Time for a bit of feedback from some of our coaches who are in attendance. Cindy Hansen is a professional choreographer who has worked with the VM many times, and she created most of the choreo for our set, with some tweaks and changes from other very talented people. Cindy’s not overly tall, but she’s a fireball of energy who, like Chuck Mitchell, is an incredible motivator and can pull the best out of us, while making us sweat (often against our wills!). She has about 30 minutes in the schedule to work with us and make this already phenomenal set even better.

Cindy steps forward and says… nothing.

Really. She’s hunting for words, but nothing’s coming out. The performance – which she last saw when we were still stumbling through the new choreo – has left her speechless! Cindy’s never been at a loss for words before, so leaving her speechless is an accomplishment in and of itself.

Cindy eventually regains the power of speech, and she has a couple of very minor suggestions, but overall she can only deliver one main message: “Have fun!” She tells us we’ve worked hard, are ready, and now’s the time to start soaking it all in and enjoy the ride.

Cindy does work us a bit on more precision in our arm raises on the ballad, saying that (because of our short-sleeve shirts tonight) irregularities show “when all of those white arms come up.” There is an immediate laugh when John Hubbard, a fellow back row singer, raises his obviously-not-white arms with a questioning look on his face.

Jim Clancy then introduces a man who’s new to me as a rookie, but not to the chorus at large. His name is Connie Keil, and he’s a thin, lively man with white hair and an ear-to-ear grin that never quits. Mr. Keil is a longtime judge in the Presentation category – barbershop contests are judged for Music, Presentation & Singing, with (at the International) five judges in each of the three categories, with each judge awarding up to 100 points for each song (3000 points total possible for the performance). He judged the VM in our early contests back in the 70’s, and from the 80’s on has worked with the VM as an outside consultant to help us shape our performances for maximum impact.

Mr. Keil steps up and reminds us that he has seen every Vocal Majority International contest and many other rehearsals and performances. He was one of the judges that awarded our first gold medal back in 1975. (Jim confirms it: “I’ve still got the score sheet with Connie’s signature framed and hanging on my wall!”)

All that, he says, to say this: “I’ve never said this before, but I have never heard or seen a better Vocal Majority.”

Wow. Really? That’s… amazing. I can’t help but feel a rush of pride at hearing that.

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