Wednesday, May 16, 2007

"Coda Honor 1.5?" or "3rd Time’s a Charm"

My barbershop quartet, Coda Honor, has been in a state of flux for the past few months. We haven't gotten together to practice in about 2 months, we haven't had a gig since December…we've basically been floundering. Several factors have contributed to this deflation of an up-and-coming quartet. This is usually the point where a quartet begins to fizzle and die unless drastic steps are taken...

…and taken them, I have. But first some background to the impending metamorphosis…

One of our biggest liabilities (in my opinion) has been the fact that I'm the only member that can sight-sing. Our Lead (and my best friend) Lou can pick up a melody quickly and deliver it with warmth and feeling, but he has to hear it first. He's a quick study with a part tape and can read music just enough for the music to be a help, rather than a hindrance.

Our bass (Floyd) and baritone (Mike), however, cannot read music – at least not well enough for it to help. They need part tapes, and need to review them several times. Without someone nagging them constantly or a weekly rehearsal with someone singing their part in their ear, it doesn't get learned. If they're not extremely excited about the song, it's even worse. This makes adding new songs EXTREMELY difficult.

This has led to us going for about 2 years with the same repertoire of about 14 songs – mostly Polecats (standards every barbershopper knows). The new songs we have added are songs from the Macomb chapter repertoire that Mike and Floyd already know, which has left me rather frustrated.

That, coupled with differing views of where or how the quartet should progress, has made moving forward almost impossible. Floyd doesn't want to compete or perform unless we sound "Goooooood!", which leads to us doing the same 2 songs every time we perform for other barbershoppers ("Heart Of My Heart" and "Coney Island Baby"…ugh). He also wants to constantly work on vowel shapes and other (granted, important) minutia, while we're STILL having problems getting all of the notes right! I'm of the school of thought where you get the notes right, THEN work on technical refinement. All of this, plus the fact that they are in a different chorus and 40-50 minutes away, leads to difficult coordination of rehearsals, and worse, stagnant rehearsals where we simply go over the same songs ad nauseam with little to no progress or retention.

Floyd, likely seeing the writing on the wall, gracefully bowed out a few weeks ago citing a busy schedule. I appreciated that.

Mike was a whole other problem. I've never been good at "break-ups". Telling someone they're not good enough is not something I have ever been good at, thus I put off calling him. Mike called me to wish me a happy birthday and suggest we get together and sing soon. I thanked him profusely, and though I knew it was in poor taste after such a thoughtful gesture, I told him Lou and I were looking for 2 new guys in our chapter and area. He took it very well, and was grateful for the opportunity. He suggested we get together for a polecat or two at the next barbershop function we're all at and we ended on a good note. I felt crass and awful, but it was done. Now, to reform the quartet.

Dave Beamer had just joined our chorus. He seemed a bit quiet and withdrawn, but eager. After talking with our membership chairman, Jack Day, I found out while he works in IT at Compuware, he has a Master's in Vocal Pedagogy! I swooped down like a vulture and asked him to join us before anyone else got to him. Though he sings lead with the chorus, he would be willing to do bass with the quartet. I sang a song or two with him and he sight-sang it down with almost no mistakes. Bingo!

Now, a baritone. Another newbie to the chorus, Dave Kemp, had rejoined the society with our motley crew after being a member for 15 years. I approached him about joining. Another lead, he was reluctant to do bari, but being a trooper, he said he'd be happy to give it a try. After hours upon hours with part tapes and sitting at his keyboard, he just couldn't hear the part. A great lead, but not so much of a bari. He called me up to thank me for the chance, but it would just take him too long to be practical to learn the part.


Then, the light bulb turned on. Why not go back to the well?

Brad Miller had been the lead in Coda Honor's 1st incarnation. I recruited him on lead and Mike Nelson on bari after they came to a chorus show. We formed a quartet for the Corktown Historic Homes Tour along with my old friend Paul Bastian on bass. We sounded great, he sight-sang well, and our gig went beautifully. Being mostly young 20-somethings and downriver guys, after the gig, they got busy and we never got together again.

Now he sings with the Greenfield Village quartet – on BARI! I e-mailed him and said that I wanted to compete and gig. His reply, "I'd love to compete, seeing as I, like any real musician, look for reasons to feed my ego any time I can." You can't get a better fit for this quartet than that.

Now we have 3 guys that can sight-sing, 1 who learns quickly, and all 4 with great ears, complimentary attitudes, and similar goals. Our first rehearsal is this Sunday.

Here's the confusing part: 2 of us are from Coda Honor's 1st configuration, 2 of us from the 2nd, and one totally new guy. So which version are we? Coda Honor 3.0? 1.5? 2 ½? 33 1/3?

Aww, who cares!? This is the kind of quartet since I first started singing 4-part harmony. This is a quartet that can go out, wow some audiences, make some money, and do some damage at contests.

This is a quartet that can be GOOD!

Let the games BEGIN!

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