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Region 3 Competition

The Choral-Aires Chorus is sizable. For months after attending rehearsal and eventually becoming a member, I couldn’t tell you anyone’s name beyond Amy and Bonnie and the few I stood next to on the risers. I would look out over the risers from the 5th row at the sea of faces and desperately try to retain any names that drifted my way.

Size of a chorus isn’t the only way to get lost though. Learning names, the repertoire of music, the costumes and the rehearsals attended every week can make it seem like an entire world to travel and explore. It can also feel like an island at times. You hear talk about this chorus or that one, but the reality of another chorus really doesn’t hit you until your first competition.

What became your little planet soon turns into a solar system. If you go further down the line your solar system becomes a universe.

As I walked the halls of the Red Lion Hotel in Appleton, WI this past weekend I was reminded of how big the barbershop world really is. I see the faces of women, some I’ll never know, walk through the lobby knowing that they share the same passion for barbershop that I do. I know that when I step out of my hotel room with full stage makeup on that the woman in the room next to me is probably just finishing putting on hers. I know that if I start to sing a barbershop tune in the middle of the lobby that there’s a pretty good chance that I’ll be harmonizing with three other voices before the end of the song. Especially if it’s a Tag.

Spring time means Regional Competitions within Sweet Adelines. Choruses and quartets that choose to compete meet at a central location within their region, perform, and are assessed by a panel of approved judges. The chorus and quartet that score the highest are invited to compete on the International stage. It can be tense – all that time preparing in rehearsals and concerts to see how your chorus compares to another – but in the end, the Regional Competition is also the chance to reconnect. It’s our annual convention within our region and an opportunity to meet, and of course sing with, fellow barbershoppers.

And you have to make the most of it. It’s only four days long.

The entire weekend is scheduled with activities, classes and rehearsals. It’s starts off slow, giving time for choruses to arrive and socialize and reconnect. Socializing outside of rehearsal, though not impossible, is limited based on work schedules, personal responsibilities and travel. So a weekend away, even a competition weekend, is the perfect time to get to know your fellow chorus mates and meet others as well.

One of the things I remember most from my first Regional Competition was the clothing. The glitz and glam was everywhere. I had never seen anything like it. If I can say one thing about barbershoppers worldwide is that we love our sparkles and a weekend like this one is the perfect opportunity to go all out. It’s like living in a glitter factory and I don’t mean that figuratively. You know if a barbershopper has been somewhere because there’s a literal trail of glitter.

Quartet Competitions start Friday evening while the Chorus Competitions take the entirety of Saturday. Scheduling at this point can be difficult and all depends on when a chorus is performing. Prepping before a performance takes several hours allotting time for rehearsal, dressing and makeup review as well transportation and pre-performance formalities. There have been years where we’ve been called to rehearsal as early as 4 in the morning because our allotted time on stage was at 10 am. This can make finding food at an opportune moment interesting too. Either because nothing is open, we’re already dressed for competition, or there isn’t enough time, barbershoppers have learned to bring snacks with them. This last weekend was no exception. Barbershop is not for the faint of heart.

After a rehearsal and final preparations, adrenaline starts to bubble in my veins. The minute I step into the narrow hallway that leads backstage, every decision I’ve made comes into question. It’s absolutely thrilling.

The stage never feels as glamorous as it looks. It’s scratched and taped from previous performances and the lights wash out any details you’d hope to see. The audience becomes a sparkling blur. From a chorus perspective, (since I’ve never performed in a quartet) the risers creak and give slightly under your feet. The judge panel is set up only a few feet away from the lip of the stage. A few smile as we walk on stage, but many are furiously writing down their notes and names onto the score sheets we’ll read later. 

Time is short so there’s little preamble other than saying the name of the chorus or quartet about to perform before we’re off. Two songs are sung: one ballad and one up-tune. A ballad is an emotional piece, generally slow and moving while the up-tune is something a little more fun and upbeat. It’s crazy to perform because in one minute we want the audience to bawl their eyes out and in the next laugh hysterically and clap their hands. If you aren’t creating an emotional roller-coaster, you aren’t doing it right.

And suddenly it’s over…just like that. A year’s worth of planning has come to its final culmination. There are only two things left to do: enjoy the rest of the competition and wait in anticipation for the placements to be declared.

The audience usually hosts the friends and family of performers at first and then slowly accumulates with choruses that have performed. It’s always a little disheartening to be the first few choruses because there isn’t going to be much of an audience, but it also means that you get to watch the rest of the choruses perform. Choral-Aires were towards the end of the show this year so I unfortunately didn’t get to see many other choruses. 

This year, over 500 performers took the stage to compete within Region 3 and by the end of the competition, all of us wait in anticipation within the audience. Emotions run high. Small talk is suddenly difficult as we wait with bated breath to hear the scores. The Choral-Aires Chorus and the Melodeers Chorus had already qualified the previous year to go to the international stage and have only performed for evaluation so we’re not impatiently waiting to be called to the stage, but to see who won the competition this year. Was it the chorus we thought it would be? How do we as a chorus compare?

The director(s) of each chorus are asked to come to the stage. One by the one the awards are handed out starting from 5th place to 1st. Each chorus is awarded a small medal they will wear for the rest of the year. Cheers rock the hall and the 1st place chorus is asked on stage to sing. We end the competition hand in hand, singing. It’s over and now the party can begin.

We dash to our hotel rooms to dress for the evening, take off the stage makeup (or not) and head to cocktails and dinner. As we chat excitedly and sit down to eat, we listen to the comments made by the judges on our score sheets read by our directors. We cheer at the positive comments and murmur or nod our heads at things we need to improve on.

The rest of the night is devoted to singing, taking pictures, playing games and more singing. All the choruses join together to congratulate each other and thank those who put the entire event together. Quartets wander around the space and in the hallways performing for anyone walking by. Eventually the members of Sweet Adelines move to smaller parties held in hotel rooms singing tags well into the night taking advantage of the time remaining in the weekend.

Just like that, it’s time to return home. The next morning is a bustle of luggage carts and farewells to friends we’ll see next year. There’s already a plan for the next Regional Competition mulling around the heads of directors and the music teams. We’ll meet up on our Monday night, inspired by the comments from the judges and push towards the International Competition in New Orleans later this year.

I always take this moment to look around. So much can happen in this short weekend. New friends, inspiration and surprise. It’s never what I expect it to be. There’s always something new to learn about the person you’re standing next to or how a chorus or quartet can make you rethink an entire song and its message. I see women going about their morning eating breakfast and saying goodbye. People you’d cross the street with and never know how they can light up a stage and sing their heart out.

I put that thought into my pocket and I go home – itching to get to rehearsal.


Published by sjungblut

A woman in the workforce by day, a singer by night, an artist in between it all.

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