Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Spring Barbershop Convention ’07: Highs (trebles) & Lows (basses)

The following is a somewhat dry account of the first half of this weekend's Pioneer District Spring Barbershop Convention. Mostly for my own recollection, it's repleat with details of where I went and what I did, much of it rather uninteresting to non-barbershoppers. The next installment will go over the fun part of the convention: the afterglow. That will have a few pictures and some fun anecdotes including my furthering the moniker of "The Ukulele Guy", "Tag Wars", and the barbershop idiom croaking out the phrase "I'm Not Dead! I'm getting better!"

Read on and comment freely.

Well, once again, I indulged myself with a weekend submerged in a sea of dominant 7th chords. The Pioneer District of the Barbershop Harmony Society held its annual Spring Convention and contest this past weekend at the Grand Traverse Resort in Acme, MI (just outside of Traverse City), and by some combination of small miracles, I was able to go.

I had been looking forward to this for months, but with our finances as low as they have ever been and the bills piled as high as the Great Wall of China, it was not looking likely. As I detailed in my blog about the Fall convention last October (5 blogs worth – a good read, if you're curious how they work), these things are not cheap in the overall smack to the wallet. Between registration fees, hotel costs, gas, and food, lost wages from time off, it can easily run into the $300 range in the blink of an eye. Thanks again to my best friend and Lead extraordinaire, Lou, I was able to keep the costs way down by delaying our departure till after some hours at work and deferring several of the costs, like the room, a few meals, and my share of the gas, until my tax refund comes in.

Welcome to Seventh Heaven! Pun ABSOLUTELY intended.
Spring Convention 07 - UberGeek & Welcome Sign

I'll leave out the lengthy explanations for the non-barbershoppers. You'll just have to read my blogs from last October entitled "Pioneer District Barbershop Convention".

This year, with the convention in Traverse City, it actually entailed me taking off time from work. I packed up the night before and left work about 2:30 to go home, spend a little time with the family, and wait for Lou to pick me up. Figured I'd let him drive this time, since until I get my brakes and EGR valve replaced, I don't trust my car more than an hour from home. He finally came by about 3:30. I was expecting to be sharing the Chapter's hotel room with our chapter treasurer, since Lou was planning on having a guest. But that fell through, so it looked like it'd be Lou and I sharing the room again. I was perfectly happy with that. "Hmm. Who would be more fun, my best friend or the chapter's debt collector?" Tom's a great guy, but hanging with Lou is much more fun.

We drove up, making a stop in Flint for a burger and trying to find decent music on the radio as the stations faded in and out over the 6 hour journey. They have a great variety of music up north. They have both kinds – Country AND Western! We stop at a party store and grab a 12 pack of Labatt, and follow the winding roads and hills to the resort.

We pull in about 10pm, gape in awe at the starts for a moment, load ourselves up with all of our stuff, and trudge into the lobby. As always, as the door opens, we're washed with a wave of ringing chords echoing forever throughout the lobby. I'll say it again: GOD, I love conventions!

After a brief argument and resolution with the desk clerk regarding a mix-up with Lou's reservation, we head to our room and unload. I crack open a beer, unpack my computer and set up the wireless connection. I check the ol' e-mail for a minute or two, then grab my ukulele and hit the lobby to ring some tags. I'm called by my friend from the Mountaintown Chorus, Ian, a music student from CMU and fellow uber-geek. We meet in the lobby and hang out for a while as Lou hits the bar for a bowl of soup.

Ian brought his computer as well. I'm feeling real cool, mentioning I have mine – then he shows me his. A top-of-the-line MacBook. Ugh. Here it comes. The old "Mac is SOOOO much better than PC" speech. I'll hear that in one form or another all weekend. I know it's better! When I can afford it, I'll get one! For now, I'm VERY happy with my Compaq, Okay! AARGH!

But I digress….

We meander, sing, and have a beer or 3. Ian introduces me to the Mt. Pleasant Chapter's director, who he's rooming with, and we have a great time talking and hanging out. My ukulele is noticed, appreciated, and borrowed on occasion as we wander. I figured if any group would appreciate it, barbershoppers would. About 2am, we hit the hay in order to be ready for our 9am call to warm-up for tomorrow's competition. We gotta be ready to defend our title!

We wake up the next morning, shower, put on our tuxes and stage makeup, and head to the main floor looking for something to eat that doesn't cost $10 or more. I grab a diet Pepsi and raspberry bar from the deli and register for the convention, then head to the warm-up room. Our warm-up and rehearsal went VERY well! We sounded great and the acoustics of the room were close to what we're used to in the church basement. We're feeling good as we head to get our picture taken.

Gathering for Warm-Ups
Spring Convention 07 - Warm-up

Lou resting up before warm-up
Spring Convention 07 - Lou Chillin' at warm-up

This guy took FOREVER! 15 minutes of, "You! The bald guy with the glasses!" (which could be any of about half our chorus) "Move 2 inches to the right! More…more….No! Too far!" Ugh. It's like he was shooting the flag raising at Iwo Gima, intent on a Pulitzer prize.

We get to the contest stage ready for action. Our opening number, "On A Wonderful Day Like Today", is usually our strongest one. We hit the first chord and it was a bit sour. The acoustics of the room were not what we were used to – always bad for us. From there, everyone got nervous, the tempo rushed, pitch centers couldn't be agreed upon and consonants didn't line up. Not BAD, per cest, but not up to our usual standards. We regrouped for the balad and it went very well. A few timing glitches and the pitch sagged a bit at times, but good interpretation and feeling. Overall, I was a bit disappointed and nervous about whether we'd perform later that night to accept the trophy and bring our title back home.

Lou and I stayed for Mt. Pleasant's show (scores and evaluations only, as they were ineligible to compete having won last year). Greats stuff! Physical interp wasn't quite as energetic or well designed as the Fall, but they sang well and the Disney tunes they chose were arranged WONDERFULLY and very creative!

We headed back to our room, got out of the monkey suits, lounged around a bit, then met Ian and some friends in the lobby to hit a local diner for lunch. On the way out, we met our vocal coach, Matt, and he said, "Well, looks like you've got the night off." Lansing wowed 'em. That news bummed me out for the afternoon.

Yea, we're dorks. Well, okay, *I'M* a dork.
Spring Convention 07 - Paul & Lou

We had a great lunch at Mabel's Diner, stopped by Hooter's for a drink, at Lou's welcomed insistence, and waited for the quartet contest to start. We mostly wanted to see Keynotes, a quartet with our friends Andy Wickstrom and Ed Bax. They were fantastic – no 2 ways about it. They came in 5th place with a VERY impressive score of 1674 on 2 ballads.

Keynotes at the bar
Spring Convention 07 - Keynotes1

After that, I headed back to the room to crack a beer, check the e-mail, and wait for the fun to begin – the afterglow…

Next up: When the work is done, the fun begins!

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