Monday, May 09, 2005

Still ain't got no band

Saturday night some friends and I attended one of the events I most enthusiastically anticipate each year: the Harmony Sweepstakes national a cappella championships in San Rafael. KJ fell ill with a tummy bug on Friday and had to stay home -- her first miss in the 13 years we've attended the Sweeps finals. I went to dinner with the couple from church who always go with us; the baritone in the quartet joined us for the show.

For the benefit of the uninitiated, the Harmony Sweepstakes holds eight regional competitions around the country every winter, most of them located in places where the university campus a cappella scene thrives (Boston, Chicago, Seattle, Denver, the Bay Area) or other major media markets (New York, L.A., Washington D.C.). Vocal groups ranging from a minimum of three to a maximum of seven members, and representing musical styles from jazz to rock, from pop and R&B to barbershop, vie for the coveted regional championships. The eight regional winners collide on the first Saturday evening in May at the Marin County Civic Center for the national title. A more awe-inspiring three hours of pure vocal music — instruments of any kind are strictly prohibited in the competition — you will not find anywhere.

The competition seems to get tougher every year. For the first seven or eight years we attended, there was always one group that stood head and shoulders above the others, leaving no doubt as to who the victors would be. The past few Sweeps, by comparison, have been extremely close contests. Saturday night, five of the eight groups could have placed anywhere in the top three without surprising me overmuch.

Groove For Thought, a six-man vocal band from the Seattle area, walked away with first prize, as well as a special award for best original song. Another all-male sextet, Face from Boulder, Colorado, placed second, and won the prestigious "Audience Favorite" vote. The Chicago-based quintet Fiveplay landed in third.

I had high hopes for the Bay Area champions, a mixed quartet of jazz vocalists known as Moodswing, but they finished out of the money. Two of the singers in Moodswing, alto Juliet Green and tenor Dave Duran, formerly sang in another excellent group, +4dB (pronounced plus-four-dee-bee), whom I had the privilege of hosting for the afternoon at another local a cappella festival a few years back. Nice folks, and I'm pleased to see a couple of them in this fine new ensemble.

One of the treats of Sweeps is visiting with a number of my barbershopping friends whom I rarely get to see otherwise. It's also my annual opportunity to load up on new a cappella CDs. But the music is the real draw, and this year's Sweeps made for a fantastic show. I'm just sorry KJ had to miss it this time around.

1 insisted on sticking two cents in:

Blogger Lynda offered these pearls of wisdom...

That sounds like a truly wonderful time. I love a cappella music.

6:45 PM  

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