Friday, July 27, 2007

Inauspicious Beginnings and Vocal Listerine…

Coda Honor has hit the ground running. This past week has been a whirlwind of a start for my quartet. We've been through humiliation, redemption, exhilaration, and remuneration all in the span of about 5 days.

We have been rehearsing for about a month, mostly focusing on getting a repertoire built for gigs. The idea was to get as many songs that we can sing relatively well together for our 3 hour strolling performance at Applewood Estates without repeating any song more than, say, 3 times.

Trick was, in that month, we could only get together about 3 times for maybe 2 hours each. Lou has a pretty big repertoire, which I know about half of. The new guy, "Big Dave" just needed to dust off the 15 year old cobwebs from his repertoire, and Dave B. can read down practically anything and get it cemented in his head with a few reps. We rattled off a bunch of standards and with the addition of my arrangement of Rainbow Connection, had found a repertoire of 8 songs we all knew sounding decent in pretty short order.

With a gig that had been booked months ago looming, we figured what better place to try us out than the annual Slamka Harmony Hideaway Picnic, an informal gathering of barbershoppers from all over that seems to grow every year. Barbershoppers are a friendly crowd. No one there is more than 1 degree removed from anyone else. While very knowledgeable and critical, they are also the most sympathetic – a perfect venue for honest criticism and a warm reception.

I arrived at the picnic first, wanting to let the kids partake of all the games and events that Mrs. Kitty Slamka sets up for the young 'uns throughout the event. I wander the crowd looking for familiar faces and combinations to sing tags and song with. Lou arrived a bit later with his girlfriend, Linda. Just as the food is being served, Dave B (our new baritone) arrived with "Big Dave" (our new bass) shortly behind him.

Floyd and Mike (our previous bass and baritone, respectively), roped Lou and I into a mini-reunion to do our predictable and tired standard of "Heart of My Heart". We've done that thing so many times at so many barbershop events, it's practically become a running gag and I LOATHE the song anymore, but Floyd had a "dame" he wanted to sing for, and that's the ONLY song he felt we did well together. Ugh.

In the evening, there is talent show for the kids before the quartets sing. Anyone under 13 or so can participate. Liam has, of course, eagerly gone on stage every year (wonder where he gets THAT from), usually deciding to tell a joke without a punchline or something, but being adorable in front of a bunch of grandparents is all you need for a venue like that. This year, I warned him the night before and suggested a song. Without hesitation, he says, "GHOST RIDERS!"

I brought the computer in case I needed to make a CD for him to sing along with, then recalled that I could play that one on my ukulele. I suggest that I just back him up on the uke, and he loves the idea.

Here's my brilliant ham of a son…

After the kid's talent show, the quartets perform. It's a parade of quartets of sorts, where any quartet there is welcome to go on stage and do a couple songs. We had planned on doing my arrangement of "Rainbow Connection" and "If The Lord Be Willin'". One non-standard that no one there would know the arrangement to and one rousing up-tune virtually everyone would know – good balance.

When we get to the stage, and we're told that as there are no stage lights this year and 27 quartets signed up, we would only have time for 1 song. After conferring and debating for about 5 minutes (and a few pleas to Mike Slamka for one more song, to no avail) we decide on "Rainbow Connection".

We chose…poorly.

It started out fine, with only a couple iffy notes, but after the key change, our bass hit a pedal note that was about ½ step high and we all freaked out. Had this happened in rehearsal, we likely would have recovered, but the nerves kicked in and it fell apart from there. We give some polite smiles and bows, then…ran the hell off stage.

I was absolutely pissed. Not at anyone in the quartet, but just in the situation. Our big debut for our peers – the guys who will be seeing us, and some even JUDGING us in contest – and we screwed the pooch. I was more pissed at myself for leaning toward doing my arrangement, in retrospect, mostly out of vanity I guess. It's not easy and we hadn't practiced it enough.

We got some polite compliments, and I vented to Toby (the bass from Party of 4 – 2005 district champs). He consoled me with tales of his quartets less than stellar performances and how they choked on that very stage a couple years back. I appreciated the gesture, but…well…they're district fucking champs! It's easy to forgive someone with a medal, but when you're trying to make a good first impression, it's harder. Maybe I'll appreciate it more if we win a medal someday.

After that, I had to get our performance out of my mind, so I asked the guys to retreat with me to the back of the grounds and record some of our songs for the web page (I sure as HELL wasn't going to put our stage performance up there). We recorded about 4 songs on my digital camera and enjoyed the rest of the show.

The following Monday we were schedule to go to Beaumont Hospital to sing for a fellow barbershopper from Minnesota who had gotten into an accident on his motorcycle. We usually charge $260/hr with a 1 hour minimum, but given the client and circumstances, $60 ($15 per guy) covered gas and McD's. We plan it in just before chorus rehearsal and figure we might be able to sing after the break at the rehearsal. We bring the guy to tears with good old songs he knew, chat with him a bit, and wish him well with the "Irish Blessing". After a couple quick stops on our way out at the behest of a neighboring patient or two who overheard us, we head to chorus rehearsal.

"Big Dave" isn't in our chorus and has no immediate plans to be. He's just too busy and Livonia isn't exactly next-door. However, since the hospital is a mile from our rehearsal facility, he agreed to come along. We arrive in our matching duds and rehearse for the first half. At the break we retreat to the library of the church to practice "Rainbow" one more time and pick an up-tune. "Darkness on the Delta", though a song the entire chorus knows from the show 2 years ago, is always a hit and we do it well.

We're introduced after a LOOONG meandering speech by our quartet development chair, and we take the stage. Lemme tell ya, after the bad taste our first performance left in our mouths, this was like a BIG ASS BOTTLE OF VOCAL LISTERINE! The cement ceiling makes every good chord ring and it's MUCH easier to hear. "Rainbow" had only one or 2 glitches, but "Darkness on the Delta" absolutely RANG!

Redemption. Especially since there were several there who had seen us at the picnic 2 days before. God willing, word will get around.

Okay, this is already long as hell, so I'll recount the next gig in my next blog.

Coming up next: For Love AND Money – Our first REAL paid gig...

By the way, check out our quartet's newly revised and updated web page with new pics, bios, and video clips!

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