HomeBlogsMister Tim's blogInside View: Rocky Mountain Harmony Sweepstakes

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Rocky Mountain Harmony Sweepstakes: Official page and results here 

This is a difficult review for me to write: I know the producers of this regional, I know the other groups, and the fans, and the volunteers.  I'm more familiar with this regional than any other, and have also thought about it more than any other.  So, I have tons of opinions about the competition, and I want to be careful not to sound overly critical: I've had nothing but great experiences at the Rocky Mountain Harmony Sweepstakes the past five years I have participated.  My observations then are certainly not meant to be negative - if they come across that way, it's only because I can't help being specific.  

This year's event was held in the King Center, downtown Denver.  It was an amazing place to have the event - I loved the feel of it being big city, big deal, classy venue, right in the middle of the action.  Made it feel 'big time.'  The venue was chosen late because of some logistical issues.  The acoustics in the hall were too live, being an ideal place for choral or chamber music but not for amplification.  Philip the sound man did a great job considering. 

I saw Rockapella perform on the same stage a couple of years ago.  It was hard to hear them in the room, especially with their abundant reverb/delay/sustain washes in their mix.  But they pulled it off, mostly I think because they had in-ear monitors so the room didn't affect their performance, and the sound guy was able to pump the volume level a little hotter than the older Harmony Sweeps audience will tolerate.

Sound checks served mostly to get familiar with the room, although there was a separate monitor engineer who (theoretically) did adjust monitor levels a little for the groups.  Only regional I've seen to allow that - haven't even done that in Denver in the past.  I loved that.  House engineer didn't/couldn't adjust much, however, according the the local interpretation of the rules.  

I was competing with two groups: Wonder Voice, a typical a cappella cover band, and Mouth Beats, an experimental vocal percussion group.  The acoustics affected our staging, requiring us to stay closer to the monitors to avoid getting lost in the ambient wash of the hall.  Wonder Voice had to squash all our staging forward; Mouth Beats ended up just standing in a line five feet back from the monitors.  With all the clicking, thumping and spitting we were doing, it was not possible to hear unless we stayed that close to the monitors.  

My groups were spaced 3rd of 4 in the first half and 3rd of 3 in the second half, so I heard very little of the other groups from the audience.  I did hear some sound checks, and warm-ups, and some from backstage, and here's what I learned about the other groups (in approximate performance order?):

Raging Harmonies: One of two high school groups in the show.  I only heard a small bit of them - sounded like a decent high school group.  I hope the show was rewarding for them.  I also hope their teacher used the opportunity to let them see lots of other groups and learn from the other performances.  Raging Harmonies has been around for a long time, and they are still a great program.

UCD 7: The University of Colorado, Denver's resident a cappella group.  Cute, but ultimately disappointing.  I don't know how much class time, resources, and attention the group gets from the students, teacher, faculty - for some reason I think they are an official school performing ensemble, with class credit and funding and all that, but I can't verify if that 's true - but they are like an average college group from 15 years ago.  They didn't seem to be particularly outgoing, so they may assume that they are cutting edge and hip and wonderful (don't we all?) and yet have no view of the larger a cappella scene, and what other groups are doing.

Mouth Beats (First place): vocal percussion!  Group.  Thing.

Home Free(Second place, Audience Favorite, Vocal Percussion award): These guys perform a lot, and it shows.  They had slick stage presentation, great timing, were very funny, and had a packaged show presentation - they knew what they were doing.  Their set was a bit heavy on the schtick for my tastes, but I'm a cynical old a cappella geezer who's seen all the schtick a million times.  The audience (rightly) awarded them the audience favorite award.  Good ol' solid traditional a cappella.  Stuff.

Crimson: High school, all-female.  They were the 2005 ICHSA champs, and while of course none of those girls remain, the program is obviously still strong.  An excellent model of what a high school a cappella program can be.

Pandora Celtica: My favorite group of the night.  It's always so refreshing for me to see a group at a competition that is just sweetly, awesomely DIFFERENT.  Simply a cool group.  Sea chanties, Irish music, just cool.  Rough around the edges, but that just adds to their charm. 

Wonder Voice : my attempt to do 'real' a cappella music.  I think it came off well - new group based in Las Vegas, we'll see where we go.  Our wicked female lead won the best solo award.  We also sang the first section of our first song completely off-mic because the acoustics in the hall were so active, everyone could hear it just fine.

No Barbershop this year!  Huh.

Reaction to the awards: very, very shocked that Mouth Beats won.  I never thought a progressive (transgressive?) out-of-the-box group would have a chance to win in Denver - historically it's been all about the traditional sounds and styles.  There was some backlash from some attendees - emails from furious audience members offended by a winning group that betrays the very essence of what HARMONY singing is.  To me, it smelled like sour grapes from associates of a group that didn't win (as is wont to happen at competitions), but could have genuinely been folks who like their a cappella traditional.  Nothing wrong with that.  There was also a good deal of very excited, positive response from fans who were glad to see something different.  I'm definitely in the "different-is-good" camp, evidenced by the kinds of groups I obsessively create.  I don't think it can ever hurt to send something to the national competition that is different from the norm. 

"Afterglow": 1) can we dispense with the stupid name for an afterparty already?   2) when you have two high school groups in the competition, why do you schedule the afterparty at a place where you have to be 21 to get in?  3) if the purpose is to sing more, as advertised, hold it someplace where you can sing without being buried by background music.  4) one complete group showed up - Wonder Voice, because they were all driving in my car :-) .  A handful of fans showed up.  Where was everyone else?  Is it really worth the time and effort to set these things up? 

I'll soon be posting Inside Views of both the 2009 Los Angeles regional and the May 2009 BYU A Cappella Jam.  In both I'll make comparisons to the Denver regional.  So if you want more details on Denver, read those!


Nice writeup Tim.  I would

Nice writeup Tim.  I would agree with many of your comments - at least Adam and I showed up to party a bit at the AG. ;)  Good luck at nationals! 




Chris Rupp Director/baritone of Home Free http://www.homefreevocalband.com

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