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Sweet Adelines International Competition, New Orleans 2019….Part 1

I walked into work Monday with a mental list of all the things I had been working on, people to talk to and a mission to make it out with a partially functioning brain by the end of the day. I made it to my desk and hurriedly grabbed my coffee cup, dashing out of my cubicle before I stopped myself by glancing at the waiting emails in my inbox. The rest of the department hadn’t arrived yet, so I had some time to settle in and write up a couple of thoughts I had before the slow trickle of fellow co-workers wandered in.

By the time I was stopped by my manager, I was completely focused on a project I was planning so I was thrown off momentarily when he asked, “How was your vacation?”

I responded without thinking, “What vacation?”

It should have been a joke, but it wasn’t. 

I arrived in New Orleans, LA on the Sunday prior to The Sweet Adelines International Competition. It was the first International Competition that I was able to put aside time to actually spend a few days walking around before becoming confined to the hotel and the performance center the competition would be held in. In previous years, we’d been hosted in Las Vegas, NV and I had neither the money nor time to spare away from work to come early. I had made it my mission to change that this year. 

I spent two days with my family walking around the French Quarter and the Garden District, eating my weight in anything that dared cross my path. My family and I have always been historical travelers so we made it a point to visit certain areas and learn about the history of New Orleans, (which isn’t difficult) while picking up snippets of its current culture.

One of the joys of being a Sweet Adeline is the opportunity to travel to competitions. Many women arrive early using the extra day or two to walk around and enjoy the locale. You’d think we’d have enough time during competition week to get out and enjoy, but this is rarely the case. By Tuesday night it was time to focus on what I and 34 choruses had traveled hundreds if not thousands of miles and countless hours of preparation and fundraising to do: Sing.

Remember the Regional Competition? Here’s a Recap:

Choruses within an assigned region meet once a year in a central location. Over the course of three days, two competitions are held: Quartet and Chorus. There are a few seminars to take and boutique to buy barbershop paraphernalia, but the majority of time is spent either preparing to perform or performing. There’s only one chance to perform and that lasts about 6 minutes. Only one Quartet and one Chorus can win and are then given the chance to attend the International Competition. We then spend the last few hours partying and celebrating barbershop singing. 

A year and 6 months later, the Regional winners of Choruses and Quartets arrive, costumes and makeup in tow, to compete to become the first place winners of the entire Sweet Adeline Society for a year. That’s a medal and bragging rights until the next competition takes place. For Quartets, it’s literal crowns and bragging rights for life. 

The Regional Competition is a convention in its own right with hundreds of people who attend, not knowing where your next meal is coming from or when and constant interaction with your fellow barbershoppers, but the International Competition takes it to another level. Let me put it this way: If the Regional Competition is the regular size pool you have out in the backyard, the International Competition is the waterpark complete with tidal wave pool and a lazy river down the street. 

It’s intense and every chorus who attends prepares differently.

The International Competition, unlike the Regional Competition, is a week long event. Event planners arrive days in advance to the arrival of choruses ensuring that the hotels have rooms ready, the arena we perform in is wired and general set up is completed. Slowly, members of choruses start to check-in, fill the lobby and show off their glittery apparel. Wait time for elevators starts to increase as the influx of singers trying to get to their rehearsal rooms starts to surge. Every restaurant, eatery and Starbucks are filled with women on the go trying to ensure that they get at least one meal out of the long day ahead of them. From 4am until 2am at night Monday through Sunday, there is constant traffic of getting to scheduled events or just meeting up with friends you haven’t seen in a couple of years. You’d think that after a day or two of this would be exhausting and it is, but you don’t realize it until you’re on the way back home. There’s no time for sleep – you have to make the most out of your time there. 

There are 5 competition days: The Harmony Classic featuring A and AA Choruses, Quartet Semi-Finals, Chorus Semi-Finals, Quartet Finals and Chorus Finals. With a larger competition pool, there is an individual day for each competition starting at 10 in the morning and lasting into mid-evening. 

The Harmony Classic Competition starts the week off showcasing the small to midsize choruses or As and AAs. Only ten from around the world are chosen to perform in this competition making it fairly elite. We were extremely excited to see two of our resident choruses from Region 3, Vermillion Valley Chorus and Midwest Crossroads Chorus, perform their Show Package Tuesday night.

Following the Harmony Classic are the Semi-Finals. Like the Regional Competition, the Semi-Finals allow a quartet or chorus 6 minutes of performing time giving just enough time for two songs, (an uptune and a ballad). Strangely enough, this part of the competition is more crucial than the Finals competition. Only ten out of all the quartets or choruses will perform in the Finals. That’s 34 choruses from all over the world whittled down to just 10 out of how many choruses who didn’t even get to make it to the International Competition. 

If selected for the top ten, the choruses and quartets must now perform what is called a Show Package. Now given the chance to perform for 15 minutes onstage, the performing group shows off their unique personality and range with songs and choreography that follow a short storyline. Think of the Show Package as a mini-musical in which you must sing your way through a 15 minute storyline. There have been Seussified performances, retellings of classic fairytales, Cabarets, magic shows and more. The entire performance is judged based on the overall telling of the story and a Contest Piece or single song that the judges would evaluate. Soon, the top ten choruses/quartets are ranked from 10 to 1 ending the competition until the next International Competition. Golden medals are handed out to the winning chorus members which will be on full display for the next year. Quartets get a different kind of prestige from winning at the International level, but that topic is for another day.

So when I joked with my manager before, in reality it wasn’t really a vacation for me. International Competitions are a lot of work. The rehearsals, the competition and the time spent watching other choruses and quartets becomes your life for five days. These five days are one of the few access points in which I can learn outside of my chorus. There are of course different events throughout the year in which I can expand my barbershop knowledge, but not like this. I get to see what others choruses are doing and compare/contrast how we approach similar problems or strengths. Choruses from around the world are all in one spot and all I have to do is observe from a stadium seat as they show me their wares.

There are other activities outside of the competition. There’s the Coronet Club Show where past Queens (Quartets who have won at the International level) join together to create a show of their own as well as inviting special guests from the men’s barbershop society, Barbershop Harmony Society (BHS), or other local a Cappella groups, to perform as well. There’s the boutique, which is twice the size of the Regional boutique, to visit and acquire anything from t-shirts to custom medal holders to jewelry. There are rehearsals of other choruses to visit or sing-a-longs to join in; past members of your chorus to meet up with and the local area to enjoy. Quartets both competing and non-competing move from room to room performing their sets for practice and gain followers. It’s almost too much to comprehend how much happens at each International Competition. As a Sweet Adeline and Choral-Aire member for only 5 years, I’m still trying to understand all the inner workings of the International Competition. 

However, with all of this opportunity and community to build, at the end of the day you’re still there to compete; to sing.

So, how did the Choral-Aires do this year?

You’ll have to wait for Part 2 to find out!


Published by sjungblut

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

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