Well, here it is over two weeks since International, and I'm just getting around to writing down what I can recall from the quartet finals round in Nashville. It's old news by now, as many of you heard the web casts and have already seen the results, so I won't go into all that. It had already been a fantastic convention all week, and it seemed like the afternoon's amazing chorus contest simply could not be topped for excitement, excellent singing and just thrilling performances. The arena was still buzzing with the excitement of Northbrook's historic win, and we were all just giddy at the thought of even more great barbershop with the evening's final quartet round. At this point there seemed to be a couple of key competitors. Michigan Jake had two excellent sets, and was certainly gunning for the gold medal if not a repeat silver, and many people had them in the front going into the finals. I had been personally blown away by Four Voices, and was playing in my mind the bedlam that might ensue if they should shock everyone and walk away with the top prize. But then when I looked at the rest of the lineup, and saw Power Play closing in, as well as Uptown Sound, and Riptide, BSQ, Gotcha!, Excalibur, Saturday Evening Post and Metropolis, it all came apart in my mind...this contest could go anywhere! There were so many good performances that deserved to be rewarded, it just made me glad I was not a judge and had to face the dicey task of picking one over the other. Dr. Greg Lyne led us all in singing both the Canadian and American national anthems, and we were treated to a stunning replay of the championship chorus set by Northbrook's New Tradition chorus, who then accepted the trophy from the outgoing Vocal Majority, with some warm words of praise from Jim Clancy. This was followed with another tribute to the Schmitt Brothers' 50th anniversary, with the whole Schmitt clan forming a chorus on the stage risers and singing together. How neat! Flipside was the mic tester for the evening, and then Metropolis kicked off the final contes session with a great set, "If You Love Me, Really Love Me" and "Wild Wild Women." The let it all out on stage, and their high energy set and big stage moves went over well. BSQ had some nice rhyhtm touches in "Nice Work If You Can Get It," and bass Al Mazzoni still had a few goofy arm waves left over that cracked us up. "If I Ruled The World" was controlled and beautiful, building nice to a great tag and a strong solid set. Saturday Evening Post took one of last year's mic testing songs to the finals round this time, "Saturday Night Is The Lonliest Night Of The Week," pairing that with "Sweet Lorraine" in a nice finals shot. It's good to see them up there, and Brian Beck sounded as good as ever...well ok, as good as the other three guys! Love ya, mean it! I held my breath as our boys from Dixie (I still can't believe we've got TWO Dixie quartets in the top ten!), Four Voices, hit the stage for the third time, offering a well-done if not side- splitting "Make 'Em Laugh" along with a neat "Carolina Mammy" medley. I am just so impressed with these young men, who have climbed so far so fast in the past 5 years. They certainly earned their medals this year, and we can only hope they'll be back even stronger next year to run for the gold. Michigan Jake was next up, and sang their strongest set yet, "Look Me Up When You're In Dixie," and "Piano Roll Blues," scoring an average 91.2%, possibly their highest score ever. They were so confident up there, and every move and chord stated, "We are the Champs and we're here to let you know it!" The crowd was ecstatic with their performance, and the applause and cheers were loud and long. Awesome! after this set I knew they had all but sewn it up. Uptown Sound was really strong though, singing "Here To Stay" and "How Deep Is The Ocean," reminding us that there were still some big guns in this contest and that it wasn't over yet! I really enjoy this quartet, watching them really solidify over the years into a mature and professional sounding group. Here's where my "judging" ability goes haywire, since I want to put them in the medals but I can't figure out where they should go! It is just too tough to call at this point. They are all SOOO good. Riptide (yayy Dixie!) is another case in point. They also have such a clean polished sound and presence, they could easily take a medal, but it's just so hard to predict where they'll be in this tough set of finalists. They sang "Apple Blossom Time" and "For All We Know" and I joined the arena crowd as we collectively shook our heads at yet another marvelous package, unable to tell who was going to finish where. And there's still three more to go! Gotcha! really got us with their third set, "What More Can A Soldier Give" and a totally cooooool "Royal Garden Blues," the latter a repeat from last year's semi-final round (they scored 4 more points this year on it!) and were just awesome as usual. Excalibur also repeated a song from last year, "You Made Me Love You," and added a wonderful "I Love Jazz" medley and gave us yet another demonstration of their amazing finesse and talent. How these guys come back year after year with such goo and varied stuff is a wonder. I love it! Rounding out the top ten was last year's fifth place medalists, Power Play, and they opened with the by now familiar "I've Been Working On The Railroad" medley that seemed to have been the song of the convention. They closed with "The Sunshine Of Your Smile" and I gotta tell you, no one does a ballad better than Mike Slamka. His style and interpretive nuances bring a song alive in a wonderful way, and his voice just has that pure quality and tone that is such a pleasure to listen to. The rest of the quartet absolutely shines around him, and the result as a whole is just really special. We all had to take a breather after this intense final round, and many folks around me were busy predicting the outcome, throwing various names about and comparing notes. I was thinking about heading out toward the door to hear the final results and then get out o the arena before the crowd broke, and then realized that I had been sitting in on all of the events and had never had the chance to listen in via the webcast. So I grabbed my stuff and zipped back to the hotel across the street, and got back to the room in time to fire up the computer and tune in the webcast from my hotel room. As it came on I heard PLATINUM's bass Kevin Miles talking about the year they've had as 2000 Champs, and then listened as they wrapped up their swan song set. I was really impressed with the sound quality of the web cast itself, it was clear and full and really sounded fine. I sat and listened as the final results were announced, scribbling them down in the convention program on the desk, then immediately switched over to the Harmonet yahoo group to see if the scores were posted. I looked once and they had not yet appeared, but when I hit "refresh" the note came up just as predicted...another truly excellent job by Scott Hoge and his backstage crew to collect the scores from the judges' laptops and hit the "send" button the instant the results were announced. Folks back home had score sheets before people in the audience had even left the arena! Amazing. But the printed score sheets were also fast in coming to the crowds gathered in the convention hotels, another fantastic job and attention to detail by the Nashville convention team. Personally I was extremely satisfied with the convention and the contest score results. What a convention! We saw some absolutely stunning performances, heard some incredible singing, saw some simply excellent shows during the week, and celebrated the joy of barbershop harmony all over again. Some have said they might not even bother to go to International now that they can sit there in their homes and listen to the webcasts on the internet. Some told me later that they had a much better "seat" than they have had in the past at conventions, where they couldn't see or hear the performers adequately. Will the proliferation of webcasts actually undermine the attendance of future conventions? I certainly hope not! For those of us who were there in person, we saw so much more than the webcasts could possibly convey. The thrill of being there to watch Northbrook finally win the gold, to see Michigan Jake plow their way thru the opposition and take the well-earned gold medals, to enjoy the excellent World Harmony Jamboree and AIC shows, to cheer on the College quartets and take in all the fun outside the arenas and the Nashville downtown area, really made this convention one of the best ever. Next year we do it all again in Portland, Oregon. The Masters of Harmony will likely be returning to defend their championship, and you can bet the Alexandria Harmonizers are going to gear up once again to regain the coveted gold once more...those fabulous upstarts from Toronto, The Northern Lights, will hopefully be back in the mix as well...and of course, Northbrook will be returning to hand off the trophy, so we'll see them once again. Already it looks like it will be a killer of a chorus contest once again! And then the quartets just keep on coming. Will it be Uptown Sound's year in 2002? Or will Four Voices come back a bit older, wiser, and even more amazing? Riptide, Power Play, and the others will hopefully return and add to the thrill. The webcasts were great, but you really need to be there to experience it for yourself. Make plans now! I've already got my ticket!
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