Thursday, April 19, 2007

Spring Barbershop Convention '07: the FUN stuff!

After the quartet contest was over, I get a call from Ian. He was supposed to leave the convention to go sing Beethoven's 9th with the college choir and Midland Symphony after his chorus was done. Of course, I played the little devil on his shoulder and attempted to convince him otherwise over lunch. Being the eloquent and persuasive bad influence I am, he obviously acquiesced. Since he had planned on leaving, his spot in his shared room had already been promised, so we got a roll-away bed in our room and let him crash with us for the night. We help him gather his stuff, drop it in our room, I grab the ol' Uke, and we hit the chapters' hospitality rooms.

Lou Coviak, Steve Charleston (Tenor - Full Throttle), and Ian Kellogg
Spring Convention 07 - Lou, Stephen, & Ian

In a stroke of absolute brilliance, this year they printed each chapter's hospitality room number on the back of the registration name tags. No more having to search for separate flyers posted throughout the lobby and elevators! Two of the hospitality rooms were right on our floor, so we got our drink on right away. We were the first ones not from their chapter to show up, so it was a bit quiet. But about 4 barbecue meatballs and 3 Triscuits later, quartets started showing up and performing. We meandered around to several different rooms, watching competing and non-competing quartets struttin' their stuff. Some good, some great, but not a one I would consider bad.

Wildcard absolutely floored me.

Lou, Ian and I stopped into the Detroit-Oakland chapter's (my chapter) hospitality room about 11. We sat and watched a fantastic Sweet Adeline quartet sing a song about the merits of bald headed men, to an obviously enthusiastic reception. I was hoping to get together with the chapter's two newest members, Dave & Dave to see if they wanted to form a quartet for the next chapter show. After trying to get them in the same place all weekend, I found them both in our hospitality room. Dave 1 didn't want to leave until he saw Fermata Nowhere perform, so I gave him my cell number and told him to give me a call when he was ready. As it happened Fermata Nowhere didn't arrive till very late, so we'd have to reschedule that.

We were about to move on, when one of the wives mentioned my ukulele and asked me to play a song. I replied with, "Only if someone else sings! Anyone know Ghost Rider In The Sky?" Jack Day, our membership chairman and outgoing an outgoing bass, volunteered (with some help on the lyrics from yours truly). Next thing ya know, the whole room of about 30 people is chiming in on the chorus in full harmony! I had figured I'd play a tune or two through the hallways, but hadn't anticipated leading a full fledged sing-along! I was applauded and we head to the next chapter's room.

On our way down, we found a group that had gathered in a small alcove in the hallway. We joined them for the tag to Darkness on the Delta, a big, belty tag with a great series of swipes and chords. With about 6 of us, it was fun, but when 2 quartets joined in on their way out of hospitality rooms, it sounded HUGE in that tiny hallway!

Ringing Chords in the Hallway
Spring Convention 07 - Afterglow quartetting

Probably the best part of this convention was the presence of so many younger faces. Let's face it, barbershop has pretty much always been an old man's genre. This convention, however, I was amazed to see many college age kids and even younger children of competing members joining in the fun! There was a group of about 10 of them in the lobby, all between 12 and 20 years old, learning tags and busting out tunes! There was one kid from the Lansing Chapter, Kaleb – 12 years old, that just wowed everyone. He'll be wearing a gold medal before he's 20 – I guarantee it. His dad, Kevin, was just beaming. Hopefully, I can share this kind of experience with Liam in a couple years – just hanging out late and singing tags.

Kaleb and his proud papa, Kevin, from the Lansing Chapter
Spring Convention 07 - Kaleb & Kevin

Another great group of youngsters was the Sweet Adeline's group, Chromatix, ¾ of whom are daughters of the Slamka family. The Slamkas (father, 2 sons, and a cousin) form Power Play, the 2003 International Champion quartet, and they direct the Macomb Chapter's chorus. Chromatix did the tag from Ambiance's version of Rhapsody in Blue, and just NAILED it to the wall! They're gonna go far. Doesn't hurt to have free coaching from a renowned quartet and chorus directors!

Chromatix, busting a great tag!
Spring Convention 07 - Chromatix

When singing tags in a lobby, especially if there are several groups, you generally have an unspoken rule of waiting till the other group finishes before starting yours. It just makes it easier to concentrate. It's kinda like bowling; you don't necessarily acknowledge them, you just wait till they've thrown before you step up. There were about 3 groups in the lobby by about 1am. One group sang a tag, the next sang another, just having fun. Then one group, led by Mike, the bass from Moxxy, sang a tag. The next group, egged on by Wally & Mark, the bass and bari from Party of 4, decided to do the same tag.

The gauntlet had been thrown… Thus began the Great Tag War of 2007.

Mike wasn't going to let that stand, so his group did it again – only louder.

Wally and Mark started their group again, louder and ½ step higher.

Being (to my knowledge) the only tenor, I played double agent, bouncing between groups. This proceeded for the better part of 20 minutes. The goal: to see who cracks, quits, or passes out first!

I have never seem someone turn the shade of a ripe eggplant before, but damned if Mark's head didn't nearly explode by the end, singing lead! Wally just fell to the floor in defeat and exhaustion!

Wally Krause - A Man Defeated
Spring Convention 07 - Wally After tag Wars

By 3am, I was at the end of my energy and the beer had amplified my exhaustion, so I retreated to our room and greet the guys, who are just settling in. I chat online with Sonya for a few minutes, grab a final beer and hit the hay with chords still ringing in my head – or is that tinnitus setting in?

He next day, we wake up at 10am, pack up and hit the road. Since Ian had completely changed his plans, he needed a ride home to CMU. Luckily, it was on our way (though a completely different route than we took up there), so we obliged. We grabbed some Mickey D's on the way out of town and got him to CMU just in time to catch the bus to his 2nd performance with the Midland Symphony. Just before we got there, I realized, "Hey, I was BORN here!"

After dropping Ian off, I took the wheel and played host and guest for a little "This Is Your Life". We drove past my old friends' houses, I commented on what's changed and what hasn't over the past 27 years, and we stopped in front of my old house. Memories and images came flooding back, including the pivotal moment I got hooked on barbershop. It was about 1977, and my dad was cleaning the living room mirror, and singing along with the 1955 quartet champion record on the Hi-Fi. The image and songs just stuck in my brain.

Paul D. Keiser: the Early Years. My Home till 1981.
My Old House3

Lou took a couple pictures for me, we drove past my old elementary school and the hospital where I was born, and got back on the highway. I made note of how far Uncle John's Cider Mill was from home and half-napped the rest of the way home as Lou drove.

Once again, thanks to all the guys who made this another fantastic weekend!

My best friend Lou Coviak, Ian Kellogg, The Detroit-Oakland Chapter, the Traverse City Chapter, Moxxy (Dave Ebersole, Brandon Mattson, Jeff Woodruff, Mike Foner), Party of 4 (Kevin Morey, Toby Shaver [even though he was sick all weekend], Mark Spear, Wally Krause), Kevin & Kaleb from the Lansing Chapter (Congrats on the win, guys), and everyone else at the convention. God, time, and finances willing, I'll see you guys in Kalamazoo this October!

If you'd like to see a few more pics from the convention, they're on my Flickr page here.

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