Thursday, July 24, 2008

Third Assistant Temporary Vice Chairman

Among the highlights of my barbershop year has again come and gone. (And I can't wait for next year!) Our annual Harmony College West, a weekend "HEP" school sponsored by the Far Western District of the Barbershop Harmony Society. For one weekend a year, several quartets and individual singers gather on the campus of a college for two days of intensive training, coaching and the best aspect of barbershop; fellowship. Our College is a District version of Harmony University presented by the Society. Shorter, more localized and more affordable. Of course the trade off is a shorter curriculum and less training, but we always seem to have a blast, and our students always seem to love the experience.

This year we returned to the beautiful campus of the University of Redlands, always a treat. Great facilities, clean comfortable environment and a support staff that really looks out for the guests. Redlands markets itself as a conference center as well as a university, so they have plenty of experience hosting groups. We shared the campus this year with a drum and bugle corps and a group of British Soccer coaches. Often we get to do some impromptu entertaining in the cafeteria for our fellow groups, always pleasing those around us! (That's Jim Crowley, Jerry Fairchild, Todd Kohlberg and Steve Shannon singing a tag in the cafeteria!) One year, we shared with an African chorus who was rehearsing for an American tour. What fun it was to sing a song for them, and they would sing one back for us. The music filled the air that weekend!

During the weekend, I proudly sport a name tag with the title Third Assistant Temporary Vice Chairman. It gets as many quizzical looks as it gets knowing laughs, but it is my official title for Harmony College West. Officially, I am categorized as "Administration" but it is understood among the HCW folks and much of the leadership of the Far Western District that the above is my title. It was duly blessed by Dean Jerry Fairchild after I dubbed myself as a joke. "Keep it" he said, "keep that bit of humor in the Society". Third Assistant Temporary Vice Chairman was the title assumed by the co- founder of the Barbershop Harmony Society, O.C. Cash, and I guess I carry the tradition....

Harmony College West has become a part of me by now. Each year I eagerly anticipate its coming, work like a dog during, and am completely beat by the end of the weekend! But worth all the work, especially to get the memories.

In 2001 I was awarded tuition to attend my first HCW. It was my first "barbershop weekend", only having been a member of the Society and my chapter for a few months. I couldn't believe what I saw when I got there. Top quartets and coaches investing time with "Joe Barbershoppers", the line between medalled performer and rank amateur seemingly broken in favor of the "Encouragement" part of our Society's official name. I got to know then-Dean Jim Crowley who asked if I wanted to "work for him next year". I was naive enough to agree, but with absolutely no regrets. This has been a terrific run for me, and as long as I can serve the district in this capacity, I hope to do so!

The job for me seems to both increase in scope, yet gets easier the more I learn.

Starting in 2002 I hosted the 1990 Gold Medalists ACOUSTIX, and had no idea just what I was doing. I just did my best to make these guys welcome at a college campus I barely knew. I guess whatever I did was acceptable, as I was asked back, given more responsibility and the promise of better resources to host our quartets.

Since then, I have hosted Gotcha!, Nightlife, Four Voices, The Most Happy Fellows, Happiness Emporium, Powerplay and this year I had the honor of looking after Realtime. Each weekend brings its own adventures. A late night run to a pharmacy to find a voice healing medication, multiple Starbucks runs, finding an iron at the last minute, and perhaps the wildest trip through a MacDonald’s drive-through ever, featuring the boys from Nightlife and Gotcha. Apparently that story is still told throughout the AIC!

But for all the humor in that story, I guess the word has also gotten around the AIC that Harmony College West is a very good place to bid a quartet’s commitment. We do our best to make that weekend away from home and family a good one. We make sure everyone gets in from the airport in a timely manner, make sure their accommodations are as good as a college dorm can be, and make sure our Saturday show is befitting that of the rarified air of an International Champion. I guess we do okay.

The 2008 version of Harmony College West was as good, if even better than in the past. Along with quartet coaching from some of the best in the business, we had terrific individual classes in sight-reading, arranging, comedy, chapter building, and voice production. In addition, this year saw the premier of Small Chorus Coaching. I was able to watch the Santa Monica group raise their bar steeply in the space of a few short hours.

I think the whole weekend might have been summed up in the finale of the Saturday Show. The traditional singing of "Keep the Whole World Singing" was emphasized by the fellowship displayed. I can't wait for next year!