Zing! impressions of Harmony, Inc. Area 2 AC&C (really long) (originally sent to the Harmonet on April 26, 1999)
The following is a personal and, according to my quartet-mates, quite possibly slanderous account of this past weekend's Harmony, Inc. Area 2 contest. I am Shanno Wilson, and I sing lead with a quartet called Zing! The rest of the Zing! cast consists of Noreen Fratus, tenor; Tracy Harrison, bass; and Linda Bober, baritone. If our fame hasn't preceded us ;-) and you have nothing better to do, you can check out our web page at http://www.ultranet.com/~bbober/zing.html for some background.
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I run home from work at lunch to pack. Usually I am armed with Linda's Famous Anal-Retentive Packing List, which you can view or even download in various formats on our web site. (We did mention she's anal-retentive, didn't we?) "The List" is great because we don't have to think while packing, thus freeing up vital brain cells to obsess about the upcoming contest. This time, however, Linda's mind is on her upcoming trip to the foothills of Mount Everest the day after we get back from contest, so she doesn't provide us with one. I mean, you'd think going to Nepal was some kind of big deal or something! How could she not be thinking about our needsI mean, really, it's selfish when you get right down to it. ;-) I end up throwing things into my bags at random and hoping for the best.
Since Area 2 stretches from Ontario and Quebec down to New Jersey, sometimes
we have to fly to contest. This time, though, we luck out since the contest
is in nearby Nashua, New HamsterHampshire. I arrive first, unpack,
order some room service, and enjoy the few moments of solitude I will have
for the next few days. Linda arrives next dragging an entire hotel luggage
cart piled high with stuff. (She'll probably have to rent extra yaks or
whatever to carry her stuff in Nepal...) Noreen is next, but we have to
wait a while for Tracy. She finally shows up around 11:30. We yap amongst
ourselves and give Tracy a hard time about the goofy ponytail she insists
on putting on the top of her head before bed (like Pebbles from the Flintstones).
She puts in her ear plugs and ignores us. The rest of us keep talking, with
Tracy occasionally interrupting loudly "Are you talking to me?".
We assure her that we're only talking *about* her, which doesn't actually
require her participation. Eventually, though, even Zing!ers gets tired
of talking (some may dispute this claim) and we turn in around 1:00.
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Noreen gets up early and goes to a class. Tracy doesn't move, and I just roll over and go back to sleep. Then Linda wakes up and goes out for a power walk. Tracy doesn't move and I just roll over and go back to sleep. Linda returns from her power walk to find that her key no longer works in the door. After she tries it about 10 times, Tracy still doesn't move, but I get up, let her in, think about staying up, decide against it, get back in bed and go to sleep. (You're probably beginning to see a trend here.) Linda gets a picture of Tracy and me sleeping in identical positions with our pillows over our heads. Noreen returns from class. I get up around 10:15, though Tracy still doesn't move. Eventually Linda and I notice she's starting to grow moss, so we jump on the bed until she gets up. She doesn't enjoy this much and lets us know about it. She also takes the time to laugh at my hair, which looks admittedly less than its best.
Tracy & I decide to follow our traditional contest-day routine, and go down to the gym to work out. We see Chairman of Judges (and Harmonetter) Charlie Hill and yell a howdy his way. He doesn't recognize us at first in our just-out-of-bed-hair-sticking-out-sweatsuit-wearing guise, but after we identify ourselves he says "hey Zing!" and wishes us luck in the contest. We have an excellent workout and head out to lunch before our on-stage time. We get back to the hotel and find that we're a little early for our time, so we start warming up together and then individually. At one point, when the cacophony reaches epic proportions - with Linda singing a Spanish art song, me singing an Italian aria and Tracy doing sirens up and down the scale - Jim DeBusman (Singing Judge & SPEBSQSA HQ staff) walks in from the hall and without stopping to say hi or introduce himself stops Tracy, telling her she's taking her chest voice up too high. He has her do the siren from the top down instead of the bottom up so her break goes away. He says he just couldn't go by without stopping, and eventually introduces himself. :-)
We get called back stage, and head to our on-stage time, though we stop to hug our backstage friends, door man extraordinaire David Mann and assistant stage manager Greg Caetano. Stage manager Tom Misner gives us the low-down and starts the clock running on our 10 minutes. We practice our entrance and run through the set. For the first time in my contest history (which stretches back farther than I'd like to share) I can actually hear the monitors well. Yippee. We feel very comfortable, and start to actually look forward to tonight just a tiny bit.
We go back to the room and chat for a while and wait for the quartet briefing, which starts in about an hour. Believe it or not, before the hour rolls around, Tracy and I are napping. (We're checking into the Narcolepsy Clinic after contest, I swear.) We decide to let Linda and Noreen represent us at the briefing and go back to sleep. They return after the briefing, and we start getting ready for the contest.
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I forgot to share part of our Thursday late night discussion, which was about nicknames. All the others have fairly stable nicknames (which you can read about on the website, if you're so inclined) - Tracy is "Pork" or "Big Dog", Linda is "Sparky" and Noreen is "Gumby". I seem to be very nickname-resistant, though not for lack of trying. They just seem to slide right off me. My theory is that with a name like mine, a nickname isn't necessary, since I'm already differentiated from the rest of the population by the bizarreness of my actual nomenclature. ;-) We've been doing an interactive theater piece set in the 50's and in one of our favorite segments I sing the "I'm Chiquita Banana" commercial while wearing an enormous hat covered in fruit. (It's not the Met, but it sure is fun.) Anyway, the rest of them decided that my nickname should be "Fruithead" or "Fruit" for short. Now I don't think that's very nice, but it's better than some others they came up with after that, which I won't repeat in a public forum.
O.k., now back to our story. After Linda and Noreen return from the briefing we start getting ready. Tracy gets in the shower and we wait to hear what her warm-up song selection will be. In the past it has ranged from TV theme songs to a stirring rendition of "American Pie" (Lord help us, she actually knows all the words to that interminable monstrosity). Today, after some vocalizing she jumps right into "Hopelessly Devoted to You". When she comes out of the shower wrapped in a towel, she shares a parody she has composed to the tune of (oh no, please no!) "American Pie," about how Linda didn't give us a packing list and how it's all her fault that Tracy forgot a bunch of stuff. Basses are wacky creatures, aren't they? (I can say this, because I sing bass, too.) Next I shower and wail out the Bach-Gounod "Ave Maria," which is good for clearing out the old pipes.
We start making up, and everyone moans about how much they hate stage make-up. They're such babies! I tell them to hush up and start troweling it on. Tracy has come a long way in the make-up department, even though putting on eyeliner still makes her gag. Anything to do with eyes grosses her out, so when she's misbehaving I threaten to take my contacts out in front of her. Works like a charm. They come to me for inspection after they feel they've reached the magic "beyond prostitute" level of make-up. (For those of you who may have missed my previous diaries, our makeup motto is: "When you look like a prostitute you're halfway there.")
Eventually they all pass and we get into our costumes. We're wearing black chiffon dresses with thin straps, long black gloves, rhinestone and black crystal necklace and rhinestone earrings. Our newest addition is a white chiffon scarf with fringe at the bottom, draped across the neckline and down our backs to below our knees. Very glamorous! This is the only costume I've ever had that I actually didn't want to take off the first second I got, though the long, bright lime green polyester skirt I wore at my first contest is certainly a close second (sound familiar any of you old SAI Toledo Seaway chorus members?). At this point, Noreen and I keep looking at each other and saying, "Now, why is it that we're doing this?" and laughing. This is the least we've ever prepared for contest, and the last time we competed we didn't do too great, so we're, shall we say, a tad apprehensive. On the other hand, we really don't expect anything, so it's kind of freeing. We'd like to qualify, but if we don't it won't be the end of the world. We've been working a lot lately outside the barbershop world and enjoying it. Still, we'd rather not embarrass ourselves in front of our friends. :-/
One of our coaches, Dick Naas, comes to the room and tells us how wonderful we look. Of course he *has* to say that, but we do look pretty spiffy. We start singing, but our room is really dead and it's freaking us out, so we head to our stairwell so we won't oversing. We run through "Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart" (I know, it's about time we sang that one). It goes o.k., but I have a hanger at the end and they're killing me by taking it too slow. Tracy, especially, who loves to add huge glissandos wherever possible. (Basses.) We move on to "I'll Have Vanilla". We just changed the tag less than a week ago (Doh!) and Noreen has been forgetting and going to the old tag. I assure her that all will be fine, but she's a little shaken. We look at each other again and mime, "Why are we doing this?" and smile. We decide that that's enough for now and start our walk.
We get downstairs and find out that they're a little behind because of intermission. The door man tells us to come back in 15. We find an empty room and try to chill out. Noreen is still flipping about the tag to Vanilla and drags Tracy off to a corner to try it a few hundred more times. I send Dick over to calm them down. Linda is visualizing and I'm pacing. After what feels like 3 hours, 15 minutes pass and we head back to the warm-up room. In no time we are called backstage. We hug one last time and Tracy and Linda head to one side of the stage and Noreen and I head to the other. I look over at stage right and Tracy and Linda are dancing around doing the twist, so we dance back. Tracy is miming "are you ready?" and I mime back "yes" but she doesn't understand and keeps asking. (Basses.) I finally make it clear enough and I hear, "I have two green lights. Close the doors, please." We smile give the thumbs up and take a deep breath.
**CORRECTION: According to a mail I received from Karensing@aol.com, the state the contest is in is *COW* Hampshire, not New Hamster. Fruithead regrets the error.**
And now back to our story...
When we hear, " And your next contestant." Tracy and I start walking towards each other at the back of the stage ".from Women of Note andAssociates..." and when we get to the middle we all turn "...Zing!" and walk straight at the audience with our arms raised out to the side at shoulder height, like "hey, aren't we hot stuff?". We take applause from our wonderfully supportive Harmony audience (love you all!)and head to the mike. We've been humming the pitch we took off-stage, so we launch right into "Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart". We find out later that one of the judges had been saying before we came out that with a name like ours we had to sing this song. He was so taken aback that we actually *did* sing it that he burst out laughing. Good thing we didn't hear him... ;-)
We feel very comfortable on the stage, and it helps to see the friendly faces of current Harmony Queens Blue Champagne in the front row (Nice crowns, eh?). I can also see one of our coaches, Lynn Randall smiling out there as well. "Zing! Went the Strings" gets a little raucous but it's nothing if not lively. ;-) We take applause and come back to do "I'll Have Vanilla", made famous by our friends from SPEBSQSA champs, Yesteryear (BGSU alums unite!). We never really considered doing this song in contest, but 4 weeks ago when we were choosing contest songs (Hello! Are we just a tiny bit behind?) we decided that we might as well do something fun. Tonight we have a great time with the song and people are reacting in the right spots, which is always comforting, though I don't understand why everyone laughed when we said, "Vanilla's white and that means purity, that's me". It's over before we know it and we head off stage. We feel like we at least didn't totally embarrass ourselves, so we're happy.
We go to get our picture taken, and the photographer says, "With those outfits, have I got a shot for you!" (Nothing like that, get your heads out of the gutter!) He has us climb up on top of a mahogany and marble bar, sitting sideways, with shoulders turned toward the camera and our scarves trailing down. Judging from the look on Noreen's husband Mike's face, it's very "oo-la-la". (Pictures will eventually be posted on the web site, but not until Linda gets back from Everest. Hope those yaks are holding up o.k.)
Mike and Dick tell us we did great and that we should be proud of ourselves. Of course, they're hardly objective, but it's still good to hear. We head for the auditorium to see the last couple of quartets. We were late in the draw, so we missed almost everybody. We're bummed that we missed our friends, the comedy quartet Musical Chairs, since they told us they were doing something that would almost surely get them disqualified, but wouldn't tell us what. [Note: They succeeded by violating Article XIII of the Official Rules. More later on that.]
We get some applause when we come in the side of the auditorium, which is a nice surprise. We had decided earlier that the measure of our success would be people complimenting our performance *before* complimenting our outfits. You know you're in trouble when the first thing out of an audience member's mouth is "I love your dress". The kiss of death, though, is the "How did you feel about your performance?" accompanied by an earnest and concerned look. We got lots of both the last time we went to International. :-/
Luckily, people are stopping us and saying we were great and they enjoyed our performance, etc. We also got lots of comments on the dresses, but never first. Woo-hoo! :-) One lady told us we "looked just like Barbies up there". Since Barbie's measurements are not found either in nature or in our quartet, I can only assume we looked plastic. Is that a compliment? No, really, she meant well and it made us smile. We get lots of hugs and compliments and then sit down. As I've said, we missed most of the other quartets, but we do get to see our friends from Beacon Street. Their regular bass, Lori, is recovering from surgery, so they have Debi Stoll fill in for her. Debi was the bass from Harmony Queen quartets, Joy and Heart's Delight, as well as my old quartet, 2-time Int'l silver medalists Heartsong (I was the bari). It's nice to see Debi on stage again, as she's been away from barbershopping for a while and she's a very dynamic performer. They do "Baby Won't You Please Come Home" and a very sassy "Goody, Goody". We are sitting behind Lori in the audience and can only imagine how much she wishes she were up there. Beacon Street is the last quartet, and while they tally the scores we are treated to a few numbers from Blue Champagne.
We are very proud of them since they come from our Area and won at both Area and International their very first year together. And even though they soundly thrashed us at Area last year, we love them anyway. They look great in their sparkly "glass hats" and gold medals and kick it off with a swingin' rendition of "This Joint is Jumpin". When their tenor steps to the mike for the next song, I prepare to become verklempt. Her voice is so clear and liltingly beautiful and she's so expressive. It hardly seems fair that a teenager can sing like that. I don't know the name of the song they did (Lover Come Back?), but it was sad and gorgeous and we were all bawling by the end. They closed their set with their signature number, Once Upon a Time. It was the first song they ever learned together, and one with which they competed (did I mention they kicked our butts?) We give them a standing ovation and sit down for the announcements.
First they announce the International qualifiers, which they do in alphabetical order (this is when it stinks to have a name like Zing!). The Area qualifies 8 quartets including Beacon Street, Charisma, Chasing Rainbows, Genesis, Sound Connection, Soundscape, Starstruck and (finally!) Zing! We squeal and jump up and down and go to the stage to get our Qualifier ribbons. They take our picture and we go back to the audience heaving a big sigh of relief. Whew! Now we can relax.
They then hand out the quartet awards. The Rae Borror Memorial Award goes to Soundscape for having made the most improvement in placement. The Novice Quartet Award goes to Fourtune. Now they announce the top 4. We're not even nervous, since we're not counting on placing. 4th place is Sound Connection, 3rd place is Zing! (can that be right?) 2nd place is Beacon Street (you go girls!) and the winners are Chasing Rainbows (yea!). We didn't hear them, but they were in the top ten at International last year, so it's no big surprise. They go up to get their 1st place ribbons and plaque and try to compose themselves to sing us a tune. It's semi-cruel to get quartets all choked up and then expect them to sing, I think. However, they pull themselves together and do a very smooth and lovely version of "Georgia on My Mind".
We find out we're luckily in the first round of evaluations tonight (the
ones that start at midnight get old pretty quickly). I split off to pick
up our individual score sheet in the pit, getting lots of congratulations
and a surprising number of (obviously delusional) "I had you guys in
first place". Before I can get to the pit, Diane Clark leads us in
the Harmony theme song. I'm standing next to Joanie Noreau, bass of Harmony
Queens Limited Edition when the song starts. Since I learned the bass part
to the theme song, never actually learned the baritone back when I sang
baritone, and only know the lead by osmosis, I sing bass with Joanie with
great gusto. (Bass is a terrific part for gusto, don't you think?) She turns
to me afterwards and says, "So what are you doing singing lead?"
I tell her I wonder the same thing most days. I pick up the scoresheet and
congrats from Charlie Hill, one of our favorite Zing-a-lings (this is what
our fans call themselves - if we don't get to have any dignity, why should
they?). Lots more hugs and good wishes later, I get to our first evaluation,
which I'm told is Singing.
*** CORRECTION*** According to Queen Lindsay of Blue Champagne, the song their tenor slayed us with is, quote: "Love of my Life". It is such a great song and man does she get us every time. Even in rehearsal! I'm thinking of adding a "Kleenex pocket" to my quartet outfits" Fruit regrets the error***
***CORRECTION*** Cindy Burrus' HI scoresheets for Area 2 (tenor, lead, bari bass) should read for Zing! - Noreen Fratus, Shanno Wilson, Linda Bober, Tracy Harrison, and for Starstruck - Diane Fagerstrom, Jean Patterson, Lisa McDonald, June Morgan***
And now, back to our story...
Before I get to the eval, I run into a beaming Jim Coates, who was on the panel in Presentation, and who has coached us in the past. He's really pleased with our performance and the progress we have made since he saw us last. I promise to pass along his congratulations to the rest of the Zing!ers and to contact him soon about more coaching (love ya, Jim!) and then rush off to find my pals.
We're told that Singing is our first category so we go to that room and say hi to David Mills. We haven't met him before, but he's wearing cool two-tone wing-tips, so he can't be all bad. The room is frigid and while we're complaining that "hello, we have no sleeves here" through chattering teeth, the door opens and we're told that we're in the wrong place. We go across the hall to Presentation and Shannon Elswick. We'll spend 20 minutes in each category, which is supposed to give you time for coaching. I find that I'm usually just getting to something interesting when we're made to go to the next category, which is more frustrating than helpful, but maybe it's just me.
Shannon missed his flight from Florida this morning, so he flew to Albany and drove 4.5 hours like a bat out of hell to get to Nashua. He arrived literally 2 minutes before the competition started. They had already replaced him with Area 2 Rep and Presentation Judge Diane Lorion, but he insisted that he really wanted to do it. What a trouper! Shannon (I keep typing "Shanno", gosh darn it) introduces himself and apologizes for his lack of judge-ly attire. We give him a hard time, of course, because that's just the kind of women we are.He lets us know that even though we came in third in the contest, we won the Presentation category. Yea! He tells us that if our goal is connecting with the audience and entertaining, we were certainly doing that, but if we want to reach artistry we still have some work to do. (No big shocker there.) He says he caught us fading in and out occasionally and ever so slightly with our expressions. We confess that we didn't actually have a plan for either song until a few weeks ago, so we're not too surprised. We ask him for help with the middle section of "Zing! Went the Strings" where it is freely interpreted. I've never felt quite right about the interpretation, and the others complain that I never do it the same way twice. What cry-babies! I say, just suck it up and follow me - I'm an artist, not a machine (for proper dramatic effect, be sure to look to the sky soulfully with one fist to your chest or brow when saying this). He's very helpful and we're bummed when "Time!" is called.
The next category is Music, with our buddy past International President and Harmony Queen Lauren Lindeman. She's very straight-forward, and even though she always tells us we're weird, I think she secretly likes us. She goes over her scores and Jim Kahlke's ( who is another past Zing! coach). She says that both songs have traps in them from a Music perspective, but that we had avoided them fairly well. "Zing! Went the Strings" is a little low on 7th chords and "Vanilla" has a fairly extended bass solo with neutral syllables behind it. Jim thought we might try adding patter or words behind it instead. Then we do some coaching, working on some tuning, balance and unit sound issues. Lauren tells Linda she needs to sound wider, but not louder. Working with Lauren is great because she used to be a Sound judge in the old categories, so we get two, two, two judges in one. In no time, we're off again, this time to Singing.
Now we're back in the Glacier room with David Mills and a practice judge whose name escapes me (Kathy something with an M? Sorry, everything's starting to blend together). It has warmed up a degree or two, but a parka would not have been out of place. David goes through his sheets ticking off the problem areas. After he's done that, he says, "oh, I forgot the good stuff - great bass". He goes on to tell her that she was the best bass in the contest and we can see her head swelling all out of proportion. (This could be sour grapes on our part since I guess the rest of us were chopped liver or something.) No, really, it's great because Tracy has been terribly frustrated over the years by contradictory input from coaches and judges. When she would do something one person told her, then someone else wouldn't like it, and none of it felt right to her. She had a breakthrough with Lynn Randall last year, though, and has really built on it. She's finally doing something that feels great to her and that everyone agrees sounds wonderful, and her confidence has grown exponentially. Hopefully the rest of us will catch up to her in the breakthrough department sometime soon.
After gushing all over Tracy until the rest of us want to vomit ;-) David concentrates on our "polluted" vowels. (What charming phraseology.) He has us sing "Zing! went the strings of my heart, my heart" as "Zeek! went the streek of my hot, my hot". This cleans things up noticeably and, hey, we're ringing some chords. Woo hoo! (We debate changing our name to Zeek!) We really enjoy our session with David and it flies right by. We say our thanks and head back to our room.
Lots of people stop us along the way with hugs and congratulations and invitations to hospitality rooms tomorrow night. Back in the room we discuss how much useful information we got from the evaluations this time, and how energized we are to get back to work. (This definitely hasn't always been the case in the past.) We also take the time to tell each other how good we all did and how much we love being Zing!. It's sickening, really. ;-)
We don't want to take off our costumes, and discuss perhaps finding a
prom or wedding reception we can crash. Noreen and Linda are competing in
the chorus competition tomorrow, however, so they want to get some sleep.
Noreen is staying with a friend who's visiting tonight, so we say adieu
and get in our jammies. Tracy and I are not competing tomorrow so we will
be (you guessed it!) sleeping in. Yee haw! :-)
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