« Tallis Scholars Begin Three-Day US Festival Tour | Main | The Tallis Scholars Dig for Mozartís Roots »

August 17, 2006

Songs, sequins to dazzle in harmony

Columbus Dispatch (OH):

The quartet competition during the weekend Buckeye Invitational will have only three rounds, but Astound Sound is lugging five costume changes. The members of the female group from Lubbock, Texas, donít want to clash with the curtains. "Not only do we have to sound good; we have to look good, too," Brenda Thomas, who sings the baritone part.

The Buckeye Invitational, hosted by the Singing Buckeyes Chorus of Columbus, is an a cappella competition for choruses and quartets of single and mixed sexes. Melodies and mischief promise to abound throughout the weekend, as choruses and quartets are known to burst into song just about anywhere.

Singers waiting in line at a restaurant or standing around in a lobby will frequently muster the necessary talent to pull off an impromptu performance, said Mike Renner, chairman of the 18 th invitational. The weekend warblers, however, will be careful not to disturb other guests at the Renaissance Columbus hotel, headquarters for the competition. "We try not to practice barbershop kamikaze, attacking people unmercifully," said Chuck Nelson, who sings baritone in PolyFonix, a quartet from Riverview, Fla., and as a member of the Academy chorus of Lakeland, Fla. His favorite part of vocal competition, he said, is interacting with the audience.

Though well-regarded among the barbershop community, the Buckeye Invitational actually sprang from a losing streak, Renner said. In the 1980s, the Singing Buckeyes were in a slump, repeatedly finishing second to a chorus from Cincinnati. After one such regional competition, they returned home and began talking over pizza about a contest for second-place choruses. The Buckeye Invitational was born. "Here it is, 18 years later, and people are still excited when the phone rings and they find out theyíve been invited to the Buckeye Invitational," said Renner, who has been with the Singing Buckeyes for 27 years.

Forget the candy-striped suits and straw hats of yesteryear: Todayís quartets don outfits as modern and snappy as their songs and consider showmanship a huge part of their performances. The collection of Astound Sound costumes includes gold ensembles with accompanying 4-inch heels, sparkly blue pantsuits and glittery red threepiece outfits. The women should look good no matter what the curtain color: black, blue or beige. "Mostly, you just want to go with something thatís flashy but still looks good on all four people," said Lisa Hilton, who sings bass in the quartet.

Hilton, Thomas, Heidi Wilson and Sara Yancey formed Astound Sound after singing together in the Prairie Winds Chorus. All four have families, and Thomas said they enjoy performing Christian songs for organizations around their hometown. Not to be outdone by the women, PolyFonix has a flair of its own, Nelson said. In a nod to Men at Work and Larry the Cable Guy, its most complicated ensemble capitalizes on Southern stereotypes.

At least one groupís wardrobe will be slightly understated. "Black and sparkly, with a tendency to molt" is how Mary Trotter, assistant treasurer of the Cheshire Chord Company, describes her chorusís outfits. The 78 women were to arrive yesterday from Warrington, England. Cheshire Chord is unusually large by British standards, Trotter said, and fairly shy by American standards: The women arenít nearly as likely to break into song spontaneously. "Being British, we are a little more reserved than that and may need to be pressed into it," she said by e-mail. "But once we start, thereís no stopping us."

Posted by acapnews at August 17, 2006 12:42 AM