Sunday, July 06, 2008

I knew them when they were nuthin'!

One of my great blessings of being a barbershopper is the ability to give back to those who have given me so much. And in that giving back, I also get more in return. Talk about perpetual motion!

Over the last several years, I have been honored to serve on the "permanent staff" of Harmony College West, a mini-school held over one weekend per year. In this school, quartets and individual barbershoppers converge on a college campus for coaching, classes, fellowship and a great Saturday night show. The show is headlined by our top coaching quartet, most often an Association of International Champions member. In other words, a quartet who has earned their Gold Medal at the highest level of competition in our hobby.

As (my official title) "Third Assistant Temporary Vice Chairman" of Harmony College West it has been my duty to host these headline quartets. I have rubbed elbows with the best in our Society. My job entails essentially the "care and feeding" of these guys, from the time they land at the local airport to the time they catch their flight back out of town. This involves anything from late night trips to the pharmacy for throat medication, to multiple Starbucks or McDonald's runs, to perhaps a run to the local "imbibables" seller to downright bawdy laughing trips through the local fast food drive-through! So far in my barbershop career, I have earned no significant contest hardware, so my "barbershop wall" is adorned with my one requirement from working with these great quartets. A picture of them with me. (I think I will make that a subject of a later essay.)

So I have worked with the best quartets after they have won Gold. At last night's Barbershop Harmony Society Quartet Finals, watching OC Times win Gold, I realized that I had also worked with a quartet before they won Gold. Heck, I had -- for all intents and purposes -- know these guys before OC Times came to be.

I had tears in my eyes as Cory Hunt spoke for the quartet, accepting the trophy and the honor that no one will ever be able to take away from him and his mates. I chuckled to myself, thinking about how long I had known the "punk kid"... and realized these boys had been around much of my barbershop life. And I was able to watch them ascend, not just meet them after they got to the top. Like all their fans, I could feel as if I had even a small part of it, even if it was simply clapping in the audience for a show or contest set.

Yeah, the tears really began to flow as I thought of my history with these guys. Not their closest associate, often on the periphery, but acknowledged as "there". Never more so than at HCW 2006 where they were second billed quartet. My duties were primarily for our headliners, but I tried to make OCT's stay and show a good one too. They gave me a copy of their first CD and refused payment from me. After an attempted argument over what I did to deserve the disk -- I hadn't done much in the way of hosting duties -- they said "You were there for us." Wow, thanks!

And that may have also meant the months and years prior. As I thought of it, there is a history. A fine one in the way of barbershoppers. I can't claim a great friendship with the outside parts, but a consistent acknowledgement each time we see each other. Maybe it was the time in 2001 that I asked Pat if he was related to Les Claypool of Primus. "I wish" was the response with a big grin. Or it might have been asking Shawn if he know of a friend from his very tiny hometown of Rescue, CA. "Of course I know him, it's Rescue!"

But Sean and Cory.... another story all together. I first saw Mr. Devine with Sam's Club and still wonder why he left between their winning Far Western District and that year's International appearance. I am sure there is a story that should remain untold, but it didn't surprise me when the first lineup of OC Times appeared. Despite the often aloof stage persona of Sean, I never fail to get a genuine fraternal hug from the man along with a warm desire to see how I am doing. Maybe it is just the presence around, maybe it is my constant vocal support of Westminster Chorus and my oft stated implications for our Society's healthy "youth movement". Or maybe it was the time, during a mass vocal warmup under the direction of Rick Spencer, me standing between Sean and Alan Gordon and I started mocking Sean's very wide vowel shaping and tendency to squint and close his eyes..... only to have Alan physically reshape my mouth and eyes in front of Sean himself. (And that last might only be fully appreciated by a barbershopper!)

Whatever it is, Sean and I swap e-mail notes from time to time, and have many opportunities to laugh when we actually see each other.

I can't claim to have been there when Revival put Cory in one of their stage jackets, but I learned of him not long after. I think it was in 2001 singing with Paul Olguin, Bill Wieser and Mike Stewart as "Quydamix" out of Reno. Who is this kid singing tenor? A half a year later, in Visalia, at 2:00 AM after Divisional contest a screaming tag fest broke out with this kid Cory as the ringleader! Being right in the courtyard of the hotel, we could either beat em or join em. So a few of us did the latter.

We crossed paths a few times, and I felt a warm honor one day in Lodi, CA, when Cory sat in with "Whirlwind" on bass for the day. (This was about the same time he had begun singing baritone with "Q") He smiled and waved my way from the stage; if figured his aim was at one of his real friends. "No", he said later, "I was waving at you!". Wow! A simple yet very impactful honor.

As "Q" gained momentum, and an eventual FWD victory, I got to know Cory and the "Q" team a bit better. These guys had become friends. (Pictured is my failed attempt at a coup for their lead position!)

The nature of our hobby is that quartets come and go, the ones that have that extra "something" eventually rise to the top. When "Q" separated from their lead, Robert Lenoil, that quartet was put on hold, hoping to regroup. But the opportunity for Cory to join up with OC Times -- when their original bass went back to school -- must have been irresistible, he understandably took it.

And what a ride it has been! 2006 Saw these young men take the International Third Place Bronze Medal, followed by a 2007 Silver, and this year.... the Big One, the Gold, the ultimate Barbershop Harmony Prize. Rare air indeed.

In the week or so between the time I started this Note and now finishing, I have been swapping more e-mail notes with Sean, arranging his arrival as staff for this year's Harmony College West. I know I will get a hug and a laugh and perhaps raise a glass and sing a tag with this guy. And personally congratulate him not only for his new medal, but his recent hiring as part of the paid staff of the Society! What a boon for both he and our Society!

But Gold or not, he is still a barbershopper. And when I see Sean, Cory, Pat or Shawn, they are fellow members of the greatest Society a man could ever join!

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