HomeCASA Ambassador Report: Dane Hutchins on Sound of the Rockies

El Dane-o's picture

Since my recent move to the Denver metro area and being appointed one of the CASA ambassadors for Colorado, I've been wanting to attend a Thursday rehearsal of the Denver Mile High chapter in Littleton and I thought their final session before next week's annual Barbershop Harmony Society (BHS) international convention in Philadelphia would give me a great chance to view their show set. Their website specifies a 7:00pm start time, so I arrived around 6:35, wanting to meet some of the men before the start of rehearsal. I should have known better. As with many top competitive chapters, during contest cycles, rehearsals often start an hour earlier to give themselves an extra hour to polish, polish, polish... 

Their rehearsal facility is fairly small, with visitors' seating centered in the bow of the riser curve, only about 20 feet in front of the riser ends. Better seating and sound than I'd ever get in Philly!  The walls are mostly masonry, which absorbs the sound, but the ceiling is a slightly-arced hardwood that resonates nicely. In all, it's acoustically near-perfect (which might actually work against them on those occasions when they sing on acoustically dead stages, which would generate a totally different feedback sound to the singers. Not sure if that applies to the Philly venue).

As I arrived, about 120 men were already on the risers, just completing their warm-ups. The sound was PHENOMENAL!

Director Darin Drown had already worked up a sweat and the night was barely only beginning (In my experience, the best directors work harder than any of the singers, before, during and after every rehearsal). Darin is clearly a master of his craft; most impressive in his own level of participation, but also in his manner of communicating needed changes to the singers: always extremely positive and supportive, never whiny or complaining (or did I just catch him on a good night?).  The men want nothing more than to give him what he asks of them. Darin worked them over and over through specific sections of both their ballad and their up-tune, tweaking the finer points, then after the break, ran through the complete show set twice, without stopping (an amazing feat for most directors, who find it nearly impossible to not stop and make corrections for each perceived flaw). The "audience" of about ten visitors, including myself, was overwhelmed by the music quality and showmanship. Their two songs are songs we've all heard many times before, and I wouldn't be particularly impressed reading their song titles from a contest list, but these charts have been marvelously re-arranged and wonderfully polished. At one moment in the ballad, the song had already pushed the audience to an emotional pinnacle that is supremely poignant and (!) in an instant, a sublime shift in voices takes us emotionally higher-still, an astounding arranger's achievement!  All-told, the arrangements, the singing and the performance, combined with a striking choreo presentation architected by non other than Ms. Erin Howden, the same Toronto lass who has provided the choreo for several recent chapters' convention wins, makes the entire SOR show set simply magnificent. Can they - WILL they finally win the coveted gold medal?

In the past 8 international contests, they've taken 8th, 7th, 6th, 7th, 6th, 3rd, 4th and 3rd places. They are eager to skip the silver and take that top prize and it's clear that they are working with great fervor and finesse to make it happen.  Complicating the situation, knowledgeable friends in the southwest say this will once again be the year of the Vocal Majority, out of Dallas, who has more gold medals than any other chorus in the society and who were unseated in last year's record-high-scoring contest. In addition, there's much scuttlebutt that much-loved VM director Jim Clancy is retiring as contest director and this will be his final year at the helm, so the group is going all-out to start a new gold medal winning cycle, taking one more "for the gipper". 

On the other hand, west coast friends tell me the boys from Westminster, California (nearly all of whom are under age 30), who won the contest three years prior, are pulling out all the stops to continue their sequential win streak (in the BHS, a chorus that wins the gold medal cannot compete at any level the next two years. The best a chorus can do is win gold every third year). Then there's the always-present Toronto chapter, who has won more silvers than you can count without taking off your shoes and socks, still wanting to bring the big prize home.

So which chorus will win?  I'd be foolish to predict, but I can safely say that this will be one heck of a contest and that the Sound Of The Rockies chorus will make a very impressive showing; my bet is ANYwhere in the top three.

Your thoughts?

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 El Dane-o