HomeBlogsgriffon4's blogHarmony Finals 2009 - A Fan's perspective

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I sat on this review for about a week too long, so hopefully it will still find curious eyes.  I was not sure what I wanted to say about the experience as this was my first time watching the Finals but my second review of a Harmony Sweepstakes show.  I feel it pointless to say "this group was great", "this group was fantastic", etc. because this is the Finals!  All of the groups were at the expected championship caliber.  Likewise, while I appreciate Barbershop, I'm in this thing for the rock-and-roll. So from that established baseline, here goes my review.

The Finals were everything I wanted.  The talent was top-notch, the audience electric, the venue huge.  I'm guessing roughly 800 seats (anyone know?) and it was full of people who wanted an a Cappella show.  I can only imagine what the performers must feel when they see that audience and hear the appreciation.  It has to be so much more energizing than the pleasantly surprised audiences I've performed in front of in my short past with CAP.  As a fan and future League director, I found myself enjoying the audience response almost as much as the performances themselves.  These people get what we're doing.

The 3 groups that could be termed "contemporary" (using vocal percussion and song, for this definition) were enjoyable to hear, if a bit "more of the same".  It becomes cliche to point out how spectucular the quality of the vocal performances are.  In fact, it would be bigger news if they sucked.  To stand out then you start looking at the differences between them:

Cartoon Johnny has a girl.  Man, I love it when there's a girl singing, even if it's not the lead (but even more when she is).  No matter how well-developed a male falsetto is, it's not a woman's timbre.  Again, I'm a fan of mixed groups.

Rezonate was large and powerful.  The more singers on stage, generally the more powerful an impact you can have but the trick is balance; too many and it's a choir and I don't think the experience is the same.  Rezonate has a good number and good arrangments.  Book of Love was a highlight.

Evolution was my home-town group and I found myself tense when they came out and hoping that they would rock it.  Unfortunately, by the admission of some of their own, they were tense too.  The performance was good, but maybe too tight; they didn't seem like they enjoyed the experience as much as they could have.  "Angel" was strong, "Lose Yourself" seemed a little fast.  Again because I "knew" them, I was able to see them using past experience as a guide. I still think they represented LA well and for a young group (~9 months old) they went far.

So there was one other group that was contemporary, but outside of the definition I used above; MouthBeats. This is Mister Tim's brainchild (#3256?) and it's a good one. By throwing away cover songs and lyrics entirely, they were free to explore sounds and rhythms. Think "Stomp" but without drums, trashcan lids, buckets, bottles, etc.  The 4 VPs on stage were superb (seems almost unfair, having that much stong VP talent when other groups out there can't find any) and the arrangements were well done.  In a show where so much was different, but still the same, it was nice to have something that pushed boundaries. The audience was very appreciative too.  I saw several standing ovations.

Barbershop was Barbershop and they were good: the winners, Maxx Factor, were musically and harmonically flawless.  I'm guessing this is what contributed to their win; if 50% of the score was musicianship, you couldn't get much better than the performance they turned in.  But I know why LoveNotes won the audience favorite (and mine, oddly enough since I prefer the contemporary stuff).  More about that in a moment.

The performance order was odd.  I wasn't sure if it was deliberate or the result of some randomization (Mister Tim indicates in his blog about it that it's random) but it seems to me that someone would intervene a little to balance out the show.  Three Barbershop groups to open, followed by MouthBeats right before intermission, then 3 contemporary groups followed by one more Barbershop to close. But this schedule played right into LoveNotes strength: audience connection.  About halfway through the 2nd act, thoroughly enjoying the rocking I was receiving, I was wondering how LoveNotes was going to survive against three "rock-and-roll" groups in a row.  I had the fortune of watching the girls "sing for their supper" the night before at a local eatery.  They were cute and had a good sound, but I had no reason to believe they would come out like they did.  They owned the stage and the audience.  Maybe it was just the underdogs making good on their chance, but the audience fell in love with these girls and their fun personality.  The "audience participation" section of their set where we were supposed to parrot their soprano's 8va warblings had the audience rolling.  The girls had a great time up there and the audience loved them for it.

So if I can come to a conclusion about my own efforts starting a League group it's that singing will take you so far, but personality and doing something unexpected will capture their hearts.  Hearts lead to CD sales and bookings...at least in my opinion.

My wife, who came with me for the first chance to be away from our kids for the first time in about 5 years and is supporting every a Cappella move I make, thoroughly enjoyed the show as a non-a-Cappella-aficionado.  And I'm reasonably sure that's not just the hotel room and free breakfast talking.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention last year's winners and this year's hosts; Vocaldente.  Above-the-fold stuff.  As fine an example of contemporary a Cappella as there is out there.  Great job hosting the show and keeping it moving.  I highly recommend a CD or better yet, a live viewing (they're currently touring the US on a limited basis).

Bravo to everyone who performed and thank you to the people who put on the show.  We'll be back next year!



In my own personal journey, I have seen a clear difference between "technical mastery" and "entertaining".

I started off in choirs and it was always about impressing the audience with your mastery of the material or--as seems to be the case with most popular music--your voice.  When I started doing acting and musical theater the focus was on "performance".  Singing a song became about communicating an idea or a feeling, not just the words on the page, ideally taking the audience on an emotional journey with you.

I think there's a place for both and Barbershop generally sits firmly in the first world, although LoveNotes was a revelation to me about what it could be with a little less technical and a little more fun infused.  I thought 3 Men and a Melody did pretty well in that regard too.

But I still love a rhythm section.  And a girl.  ;)

2000 seats

Or to be exact, 1960 seats.  According to http://www.co.marin.ca.us/depts/CU/Main/mc/mc_about.cfm

Hooray for the googles!

And thanks for the great write-up, Tom!


No one said I was good at visualizing dimensional space!!  :)

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