Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Georgia On My Mind

When I first joined the Vocal Majority, I dug up every video I could of their performances.

They were fresh off of their 2006 win in Indianapolis, and at the time their contest performance there was still on YouTube. (Copyright laws force the Society to pull them off, unfortunately.) The thing that impressed me as much as anything – including the sound and the moves – was that the chorus was ALWAYS performing, from the open of the curtain until its close. Before the first song, between the songs, after the songs, they were all ON – not a bit of relaxation from the entertainment.

Needless to say, that doesn’t happen by accident. By the time the last month before the contest rolls around, when we run our two songs, we run them from before the curtain opens until after it closes. We drill it over and over that way, so that when we hit the contest stage on Friday there will be no surprises, nothing new.

It’s all planned, choreographed, and executed with precision. Each time. Every time.

We do the same tonight. Here’s the sequence.

  • There’s no curtain here in the rehearsal room, but we pretend that it’s there and closed. When we reach the contest stage Friday, there will be absolutely no talking, so there is no talking now.

  • Associate Director Jeff Oxley steps before us, points to Jay Dennis to blow the pitch for our first song, the ballad “Georgia On My Mind.” We softly sing an “Ooo” on the opening chord, both to check our tuning on the new stage and to check our “faces” – making sure we are showing all the love and passion we should as we each sing to our own personal “Georgia.” If there’s any fine tuning to the pitch to be made, Jeff will guide us with hand gestures. There isn’t any. (And there won’t be on Friday!)

  • When Jeff is satisfied, the men in the center of the risers part to make a path for him as he heads to his place on the top row, center. Phil McShan (a/k/a “Grasshopper” due to his position as Chuck Mitchell’s assistant choreographer) steps from his place on the front row to stand before the chorus. He does three things: (A) lights up his face in the biggest smile possible and scans each and every guy on the risers to check that he is doing the same; (B) “sets” us, roughly the equivalent of an orchestra conductor raising his baton, so that we physically swell in unison to “chorus position” – chest up, slight lean forward, head held high; and finally, when he likes what he sees, (C) points with the index fingers of both hands behind himself to the curtain, and we turn our heads “down the tiles” – straight out to the audience.

  • All of the preceding is done, on the actual stage, while the curtain is still closed, and we are beaming and smiling to a wall of fabric – but when it opens we’ll already be doing what we need to do. At this point Phil returns to his place on the front row and director Jim Clancy steps up, gives us a quick once-over and flashes his dazzling smile at us, and faces the curtain himself, ready to receive the applause. Then, and only then, is the signal given to the stage manager that we are ready to go.

  • In the actual contest, the stage manager notifies the emcee, who interrupts whatever bit he’s doing or announcement he’s making to tell the audience that we’re ready for the next contestant, so “close the doors and take your seats.” In rehearsal, our own VM emcee Nick Alexander does the honors for us from his place on the risers: “Representing the Southwestern District, under the direction of Jim Clancy, The Vocal Majority!

  • Thunderous applause. And not in our heads, like it has been in so many seemingly endless hours of rehearsals in various halls and churches over the past many weeks. Actual, sweet, glorious, ringing applause and cheers from the hundreds of friends and families in attendance here in the rehearsal room at the Sheraton. There’s nothing like it. Jim steps forward on the stage, with his arms out as if to embrace the crowd, as we smile energetically and acceptance the ovation.

  • When the applause begins to lessen, Jim sweeps his arms around and faces the chorus – we “reset” to chorus position as he does so. He points to Jay, the pitch blows, and we change our faces from our enormous smiles to the love and passion of “Georgia On My Mind.” Jim raises his arms – we lean in just slightly – and he starts us singing the intro. “Melodies bring memories that linger in my heart… Make me think of Georgia, why did we ever part?”

  • The song, Jim Clancy’s own arrangement, rises and swells in flowing harmonies, as we express our longing for “Georgia” – the woman we love, not the state. As the verses flow, our longing turns to resolution – “Still in peaceful dreams I see the road leads back to you! Back to my Georgia, Georgia! No peace I find… Just an old sweet song keeps Georgia on my mind.”

  • The song draws to its big ending, and with it our first big surprise for the International crowd – Georgia’s always on my mind…” The chorus and Jim turn to the audience, and we crank out the volume as the chords resolve on the word “mind.” It’s a big, ringing finish many choruses only dream of. The crowd begins to go wild, and just as they do, Jim turns back into us and we continue singing – Just kidding! That wasn’t the real ending! The tag continues on, soaring to even greater heights: Georgia’s always, always on my… mind!!!!” The Basses and Baritones both have a tremendous swipe to resolve the last chord, as we turn back to the audience. This time the ending’s for real, and it’s bigger than before.

The crowd is on their feet, giving us a deafening standing ovation before we even cut off. And this is only the first of two songs.

No comments: