Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Quartet Quarter-finals

We’re all settled in at the Honda Center for the quartet competition to begin. But we won’t be here for too long.

Fifty quartets, people. 5-0! The first session alone is scheduled to last for four-and-a-half hours, from 11 to 3:30, with the second session scheduled for the same amount, 6:00 to 10:30. And that’s if it all stays on time! I know many, many barbershoppers live for this experience and soak up every available minute of the competition, but I’m sorry, I’m not one of them. At least not yet. I love the singing, the comedy, the passion, the entertainment, but I can’t stay in the seat for nine hours of it in one day!

No, our main goal here, at least for my immediate family, is just to get a good taste of it, see a few favorites, and then head back. I’d already looked over the order of performance for the first session of the quarter-finals and picked out the ones we wanted to see. Fortuitously, two VM quartets sing early on in the first session – Glory Days is third in the line-up, and the William Kratt Chord Company is fifth.

And later on, not long before the scheduled intermission, Storm Front performs. Storm Front, based in Denver, is one of the funnier groups around, and they sing really, really well. They took the third-place bronze at the 2007 convention, and made the finals last year but missed out on a medal (perhaps because they struck a nerve making fun of the Barbershop Harmony Society’s new logo?). I love a group that can sing and make me laugh, and Storm Front does both very well.

We settle in for the show. All of the quartets that perform have something special, otherwise they wouldn’t have qualified for the International. At the same time, all are not created equal, and some just have an amazing quality to their performance that make them stand out. It’s the difference between “really good” and “great.” I don’t envy the judge’s job.

Glory Days performs two numbers I’m not familiar with, “When It’s Sleepy Time Down South” and “Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea.” Both are excellent. Glory Days is a consistent top ten finisher, and I’m pulling for them to get a medal this year.

William Kratt Chord Company sings a couple of spots later, doing “Melancholy Baby” and “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love.” They’re really good. I wish the best for them, but I just hope “really good” is good enough to move on – they have some stiff competition.

I could say something positive about each of the dozen quartets we see, but frankly, I didn’t take notes, I just sat back and enjoyed – and you kind of have to be there anyway.

Then there’s Storm Front. I’m expecting great singing and great comedy, and I’m not disappointed. They open by making fun of themselves and their setback last year with a killer parody, “Medal Come Back to Me,” even referencing the logo mockery. It’s hilarious. Then, they seem to perform a ballad, “Where or When,” absolutely straight, with no comedy. I’m surprised, but delighted that they’re showing a serious side.

I should have known better. When they reach the words “it seems we stood and talked like this, before” they raise their arms in unison, and then “we looked at each other in the same way then” they exchange stoic looks with each other. Their Bass then sings “it…” and they repeat “…seems we stood and talked like this, before” with the identical arm raise, followed by then “we looked at each other in the same way then.” Once again the Bass sings “it…” and the same two lines repeat, with the same movements and looks. They’re stuck in a loop.

I’m dying laughing. Onstage, only the Lead seems to notice something is wrong. He continues to sing, but looks worried. By the fourth time through the same two lines, he reaches into his coat and pulls out the music, all while continuing to sing and move. He finally interrupts and (in a lengthy sequence that you just had to be there to appreciate) prods the Bass singer into singing the correct lyric that will get them further into the song.

They have the crowd rolling in the aisles. There are some dang good quartets competing, and Storm Front may not have as strong a chance at the gold as some quartets, but I love ‘em. I hope they place high regardless.

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