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Sweet Adelines International Competition, New Orleans 2019…Part 2

Sound. Music. Expression. Showmanship.

As I opened my eyes on the day of the Semi-Finals, I listened to my mother move about the room getting ready. We were lucky this year – no 5:00 am check-in and rehearsals before entering the competition circle. I rubbed my eyes and let my thoughts start to collect.

Sound. Music. Expression. Showmanship.

I stumbled over to the closet and laid out my costume on the bed. I showered, brushed my teeth and arranged my make-up on the bathroom counter so I could come back later and make myself performance ready. I was cold, but I didn’t want to put too many layers on because I knew that I’d be moving around in rehearsal.

Sound. Music. Expression. Showmanship.

Like a drum beat, these words cycled through my head during rehearsal, putting on my war paint and getting dressed that day. They’re the categories in which every chorus and quartet are judged on and the Semi-Finals determine whether you get to sing again. We had all made it this far and we knew that we could make it to the Top Ten. We had something to prove.

I headed to our short rehearsal before returning back to my room to don the make-up and costume before returning back to the rehearsal space to be checked by the make-up team. Though I was happy about the later time, I was a little disappointed that I wouldn’t see a lot of choruses that day. That’s the draw back of performing on the back half of the roster, but I’d be able to go back and watch all the performances later thanks to the recorded broadcast that would later be uploaded to youtube. I had to focus as we congregated in the hotel lobby.

Competition days can be a lot like driving in high traffic areas; a lot of “hurry up and wait” to “full speed ahead.” This does nothing for my nerves or my patience. As I stood in the lobby with my chorus mates waiting for the buses that would cart us over to the competition arena, I paced saying very little to those around me. I watched others take pictures or talk about what they had for dinner last night. Smiles and laughter and short bursts of nervous energy. I take it all in.

Sound. Music. Expression. Showmanship.

Like clockwork, as we load onto the buses, the chorus after us starts to saturate the hotel lobby. It’s their turn to wait. It takes us about 15 minutes to navigate the streets and arrive at a rear door that leads us to the competition circle. We squeeze into a small space and sing just snippets of our pieces before we’re led out and line up to how we’ll load the risers on stage.

The international stage isn’t more than a platform with a reflective sheet held up by slim pipes. The stage lights above are muted making it quite dark as we shimmy up the ramp. You can hear the murmur of people in seats as the chorus before us exits from the other side of the stage. We’re waving at each other, giving thumbs up and keeping our spirits up. It’s time to show everyone here and online watching from afar what we’re made of.

If there’s one immediate and obvious difference between the stage from Regionals to International’s, it’s the audience. You can’t see them at first. All you see is a vast landscape of stadium seats that you’ve seen on television for basketball or hockey games. Then suddenly, the seats materialize with people and you realize that they’re cheering for you. It starts as a wave from the sides, the full push of sound slowly growing from the far back. You’re smiling and trying not to laugh or tear up. You know that everyone in that room shares this love for barbershop and in the end this competition is our yearly celebration of that love.

Sound. Music. Expression. Showmanship.

The stage was alive. I tried to keep my focus away from the audience or the judges sitting front row and center. I breathed in deeply as I smiled with everything I had.

Sound. Music. Expression. Showmanship.

We performed what we had worked so hard on and we gave our hearts over to the moment. I forgave and coaxed my lover back to me and then told everyone how I thought I’d never find myself ever in love let alone be ready to marry. Within 6 minutes we had told the audience an entire love story and then, it was over. Like a figment of the imagination the emotional roller coaster you put yourself on for so long subsides to a dull roar. It’s not over, but for now there’s a small reprieve.

We’re met by friends and family as they congratulate us on our victory of claiming the stage as our own before we shuffle to our seats as soon as possible to watch the rest of the choruses perform. We were the 21st Chorus to sing that day out of the 34 Choruses in attendance. We’re elated and exhausted at the same time and there’s still a long day ahead of us.

We watch, sitting on our hands, as choruses march on and off the stage. Some of our chorus mates go back to the hotel and remove the make-up and costume for more comfortable clothes or grab that one meal of the day hoping to celebrate later when we hear our name called. We did it. We’ve gotten this far – we can push even further.

Gayle Lanz was recognized for her 60 years of being a Sweet Adeline!

Finally, our Emcee for the Semi-Finals Competition takes the stage. She holds the names of the choruses that have made it to the Finals and only ten choruses she can choose from, but she’ll do so randomly to arrange the order of performances for the Finals. There is, however, one chorus that must be called first: The Mic Testers/The 11th Place Winners.

“And this year’s Mic Testers are: The Choral-Aires Chorus!”

Our supportive cheers catch in our throats. We push out some semblance of noise, but suddenly our section goes silent. We didn’t make it. Why didn’t we make it? This was our year! How could we not be in the top ten?

Being the Mic Testers is by no means a bad slot – the 11th place chorus is asked to perform onstage for the Finals as the opener while also assisting the sound engineers test the mics to ensure that there aren’t any issues for the rest of the competition. However, this also means that the Mic Testers are not a part of the competition. Like a concert, we became the opening act.

I’d like to say that we bucked up and enjoyed the moment for what it was: we made 11th place in the world! How could we not be happy?

We trudged back to the hotel to go over performance and notes from the judges in our rehearsal room. There’s still cheer: we did it! We performed and wasn’t it glorious? It felt so good and we did so much better this year. We start to sing – because what else would you do? – welcoming in Amy and Bonnie once they arrive. We sit on the risers and listen to the performance notes.

We hadn’t done anything wrong – if anything, we had improved since the last International Competition. I listened to what was written by each judge and all I could hear was how well we did. There were a few things to fix, but I heard nothing but praise. Our character as a chorus, something we’ve always struggled with, shown through and dazzled. Our music was good and our joy could be felt by everyone. This wasn’t a defeat by any means.

It took a long while for this to soak in. We hadn’t failed. 

For me, personally, I just wanted to understand. Where did the points go? How could we get back to the Top Ten? 

It was during this communal meeting that we had come to understand two things: that competition was becoming razor-thin and the feeling we had performing this year onstage was incredible. This was the first year where I didn’t feel like I had to be the perfect barbershopper or parts didn’t feel fully settled. We had felt confident and excited to perform. Seeing how close the points were between us and the 10th place Chorus was just motivation for us. By the end of the night, we finally started to see where all that hard work put us and it made us want more.

It was back to rehearsal the next day. If we were going to sing on Saturday at the Finals, we were going to be the best. We had a great Show Package planned and it just made the week even better that we got the chance to perform it for everyone.

How many choruses are invited to Internationals only to go home each year without having made it past the Semi-Finals? How much money did they spend to travel here; how many hours, days, weekends did they spend in rehearsal? How many choruses have never even made it past the Regional competition?

At one point, I walked into an elevator with a lady from another chorus heading to the lobby. We were quiet for a moment until she said, “Congrats on getting to Saturday.”

“Thank you!” I replied.

It was quiet for a few more seconds before she turned to me and said, “I’d run up and down the street naked if I could make it to the Finals. I’d sing at the top of my lungs and run naked if that’s what it took.”

I had been taking another elevator ride when I was told by another woman that their chorus hadn’t even created a Show Package. “We come each year and we sing in the Semi-Finals, but we never make it to the Finals so…we just don’t make a Show Package.”

I am, by no means, ungrateful. I know I have been blessed by the fact that I’ve been able to attend three International Competitions in which I’ve competed in. I know that there are many out there who don’t have that chance. I know that the community I have with my fellow chorus mates isn’t the same across the board. This is just the first year in my short time as a Choral-Aire, as a Sweet Adeline that things have been put into perspective for me. There’s so much about my experience that I may have taken for granted.

Several of my chorus mates had similar stories to share as we reconvened at our Friday night rehearsal. So many voices of support and well wishes; so many women from other choruses knowing that we’ll put on a show. It’s motivational. The love, the support and encouragement we get from ladies within the organization pushed us to realize that we were on the precipice of something great.

And so, if they wanted a show – we’d give them a show.

Our Show Package was the first anyone in the audience was going to see. Might as well raise the bar to all the other choruses that were going to compete that day.

Unlike Regionals and the Semi-Finals, the Finals competition was based on the storytelling of a chorus. With a padded time of 15 minutes, a chorus must have one song chosen as their competitive piece and then use the rest of the time to pull together a story and songs to move the story along. We had chosen to sing about our time in New Orleans and the culture we would and did experience.

Saturday morning came and I was antsy – not because I was nervous. I wanted to rip that stage to shreds. I loved our Show Package and I was ready to show it off. Thanks to the rehearsals and helpful last-minute changes made by visiting coaches we were pumped. This was a performance in which we could just let everything go and have fun; let loose and just be.

We stepped into the lights, smiling. The crowd swelled before us, larger than at the Semi-Finals. Beyond the 10 choruses that would be performing in the competition, we had the attention of the entire convention. As we took our places, Debbie Lee, our resident violin player, stepped up to the mic and started playing, “Before the Parade Passes By”. I took in a deep breath, looked out into the crowd and dared them to be quiet; just try and sit still as we blow your mind.

We didn’t give the audience a chance to come down. It was apparent to all within that stadium and by the smiles from the judges in front of us that we were there to show what we could do and how much fun we have singing barbershop. We fed off that energy and gave ourselves over to the pure joy and love we had for our show. Our last number, “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” rocketed people from their seats as we danced, howled and sang the depth of our love for each other, for the chance to perform our Show Package for everyone, and of course, barbershop.

I’ll never forget that feeling.

We left the stage not knowing that our Package would be talked about on the live Webcast well into the Finals competition or how so many women stopped to tell us how much they loved our performance. I nearly erupted from my seat when I was congratulated by multiple Queens who I had passed in the hallway or on the bus. Our makeshift band for the last number found its way down for an interview – everyone asking who the violinist was!

I watched the rest of the competition dazzled by choruses in the top ten: they’re sound, music, expression and showmanship. It was by far the best International Competition I had ever attended. I learned so much about myself, my chorus and this society and the amazing support that makes it all work. And New Orleans made herself known by throwing a 45 minute delay into the Finals Competition by throwing a random parade shutting down traffic. I couldn’t have been happier. The choruses were awarded, the Swedish powerhouse Ronninge took First place and thousands of people joined together and sang a parting piece. 

Sweet Adelines 2019 International Chorus Winner Ronninge Chorus

The International Competition for 2019 had been completed. Another great year of performances only to turn our attention shortly after towards the future. The International Competition 2021. It’s already so close and there’s so much we have to do to get there.

I celebrated our magnificent triumph going to dinner with my chorus mates cramming as much food as I could into my maw. This was the last night and probably the last meal I’d have in this wonderfully vibrant city. My mother and I were leaving on an early flight the next morning. I had to make this meal count.

I spent that light night laughing, planning and simply gazing out at all the women who surrounded me. I watched Sweet Adelines I didn’t know pass by and wondered how long they’d been members or what they’d do once they got home. How many lives were changed by attending this year? What made this competition different than the rest? I sat and talked with friends in the lobby about what we could do – how we wanted to improve. For the first time after being away from home for a week after all the drama and excitement I still wasn’t ready to go home yet. I mean, I was tired – exhausted! – but I wasn’t ready.

I came home and put barbershop out of my mind – only for a week! I had projects at work to catch up on, chores to do, and recipes to find so I wouldn’t miss New Orleans too much in the coming weeks. Soon, I was back and rehearsal watching our performance like a football player watches his previous games. We have to take what we learned and apply it to our upcoming Regional Competition. We’re only a few months away from qualifying to attend the next International Competition and there’s no time to lose!

Interested in hearing the performances from the International Competition? Well your in luck! 

Subscribe to the Sweet Adelines International youtube channel and watch all the performances and more to your heart’s content!


Published by sjungblut

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

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  1. A true depiction of the ups and downs that these contests bring, along with the joy and humanity that we feel from this organization. You said it perfectly…thanks for sharing, AGAIN!


  2. Nailed it again Sally. Love how you capture all the emotions of competing and the absolute love of barbershop and the fabulous woman who make up the barbershop community.


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