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Indiana Harmony Brigade
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The Weekend from Heaven

Indiana Harmony Brigade 2007 By Colin Craig

News about the Harmony Brigade Experience has been traveling around the Cardinal District for the last 4 to 5 years with stories about learning A-level songs, singing with Gold Medal quartet winners, competing in a quartet you only met a hour before the contest, and performing a full concert in a chorus of over 100 men, with only 10 minutes per song of rehearsal. Sounds like a mythical experience to most of us, but I'm here to tell you it's all true.

The great part of this story is that if you are lucky enough to attend a Harmony Brigade weekend, you have reached a personal pinnacle as an amateur Barbershopper. The problem however is that when you want to tell someone about your weekend, you can't find the words to express the complete experience. This surely sounds totally absurd, as there are few Barbershoppers who are limited for words. But to be capable of conveying the complete Harmony Brigade Experience, you want to be able to verbalize the emotions from each of the following events into a single conversational phrase. In an effort to compile that one phrase, I decided to break down the Brigade experience into the many phases that occur during the journey. It all seems logical enough to think that once the individual emotions are identified, we should be able to summarize the event easily enough. So let's gets started:

1.    The invitation: You've been invited to join the Harmony Brigade: As a competitive quartet member, you have achieved a level of expertise that is recognized by the Harmony Brigade as a qualification to attend one of their events. You don't have a clue what the impact of that invitation will eventually have on your musical career, but because you have been told it involves more singing, you accept the challenge. Enter these emotions: Gracious, proud, accomplished, eager, humbled and curious.

2.    The Music Arrives: You get a large envelope in the mail in early June, with 10 pieces of music you have never seen before, a professional grade learning C/D, and a letter from Duane Henry explaining your responsibilities over the next 4 months. You look at the music, listen to the C/D and realize that you have been challenged to learn 10 A-level songs well enough to sing all of them, in a quartet that only existed for 1 hour, in front of 100 other Brigade Members.. Enter these emotions: Panic, excitement, worry, amazement, challenged, brotherhood, worthy, determined.

3.    The week before the HB weekend: You are singing every song now, without music. You solicit extra driving trips from your family so you can get more time with your learning C/D. You sing with "your" part on the C/D shut off, and discover there are pickup notes, back time notes and words you completely missed. Other parts are perfect, and your confidence is at "about 90%". Enter these emotions: Memory overload, frustration, achievement, exhaustion, I can't remember, this is Nuts! This is great! I can do it, I can't do it, This is amazing!

4.    Friday arrives at last: The big day arrives, and you check your "things to bring" list hoping that you don't leave something important at home. You make arrangements with friends and family for the Saturday night show, and head out the door towards a life changing adventure. The motel looks normal enough, nothing overdone, but clean, nice pool, big hallways, compact, seems to have everything you need. As you move through the building, you hear singing in the hallways, and you start recognizing faces you have always associated with great singing in the District. Your adrenaline is already starting to rush, as you hum along with the songs being sung, because….You know that one!!! Wow, all that hard work is paying off already. By the time dinner arrives, you've sung at least half of the year's songs, and you can't wait to do the another. Enter these emotions: YES, WOW, I'm speechless, this is a Goldmine, I am so lucky, Thank you God! I have to go sing now.

5.    The first contest is approaching: It's time for our first dinner buffet and you take your first break in an hour to have a meal with your new family, learn new names, see familiar faces, hear some great stories, laugh, talk, eat and relax. Then you get instructions for the rest of the night that include how your name has been put into a random draw, and you are about to meet your brand new, never tested, never heard, competition quartet. We get 45 minutes to practice a chosen song, then its contest time. Enter these emotions: Panic, excitement, curiosity, brain freeze, calm down, got a pitch pipe? Let's get started!!!!

6.    The contest begins: As we assemble in the contest room, we are anxiously waiting for the master of ceremonies to read off the first three quartets to sing. The room is buzzing with conversations, jokes about our competitors, laughs, zings, some very modest competitive challenges, and finally the list is announced. As the first quartet moves on stage, the room of 100 men is encouraging the guys, and sending some "advice" to help break the nervous tension in the air. But as the quartet takes their pitch, the room is completely silent, almost reverent in respect for the quartet's challenge and in recognition of their objectives. As the first song ends, the room erupts in total chaos as the level of encouragement and support is absolutely overwhelming. As the judges total the scores, the next quartet is announced, the line up is extended, and for the next two hours, the last 4 months of work is put on the table. Enter these emotions: Nervous, anxious, supportive, relieved, and excited.

7.    The judge's announcement: The master of ceremonies comes to the stage and the crowd settles down for the news. The top ten qualifiers are announced and you learn if you did or didn't make the cut. If you made it, your quartet does some high fives, and then immediately plans a practice schedule that can be fit in between now, at 11:00 at night, and 10:00 tomorrow night after the big concert, to go over all 10 songs. You check the broom closet in the hallway and find it has already been claimed, the side stairwell is next, but it is occupied, off to the continental breakfast café, and we find solitude. The practicing begins. You realize again that this is first time in your life that you have sung this whole set of songs with these three guys. You shake hands, promise to be 100% in the morning, and finally head for your room. It's 1:00 A.M. Enter these emotions: Excited, exhausted, accomplished, lucky, sorry not everybody that does not get to sing again, brain is drained, pleased, proud, glad, wondering what our song will be.

8.    Saturday Morning wake up call: Your quartet meets in the café for coffee, a snack, and a plan for practicing. You have until 10:00 to go through the songs. Since your voices are cold, you discuss strategy, techniques, phrasing and give support to each other with confidence and excitement. After brunch, you focus on the concert practice and join the rest of the group as you travel to the venue. As the entire chorus opens with their first song, you stand in awe as the sound of 100 or more quality singers surrounds you. This is a moment you will never forget. Where in the world can a Barbershopper have the opportunity to be a part of a chorus like this? Only in the Harmony Brigade can you earn the pleasure to this experience, and you are so glad you were invited, glad you worked so hard to learn the parts, glad you are standing here as a member of the greatest chorus experience in your life. You head back to the hotel, sing a few more songs, and then rest for an hour, as your day is only half done. Enter these emotions: In Awe of the chorus, proud, accomplished, excited about the concert, amazed at how well everyone is prepared.

9.    The evening Concert: At 5:00 the evening buffet brings everyone back together for another great time to visit, laugh, tell some great stories, and talk about the weekend so far. Then it's off to your room to get ready for the concert. As we assemble in the practice room we hear from the directors, do a group warm-up, open each of the 10 songs, then you move out to the risers for the greatest concert event of your life. The master of ceremonies prepares the audience, then the announcement is made, the curtain opens, and your first Harmony Brigade song surrounds your entire soul and flows gracefully over the footlights to the audience. The experience of singing in this chorus makes a permanent mark in your memory. There are moments of time in the show where all of your emotions are stirred, and the patriotic finale brings chills to every man, woman and child in the auditorium. As you meet the guests as they head out to their cars, you are bathed in compliments and appreciation for a great show. Enter these emotions: Proud, amazed, so glad you came, every minute of practice in the car was worth it, unbelievably great music, great audience, great show, wow, Harmony Brigade is flat out amazing.

10.    The Saturday night top ten finals begin: After the great show, you return to the motel and meet with your quartet one more time before the contest, to discuss a few more ideas and plans. You give good luck to everyone and find a seat in the audience to await the draw. The master of ceremonies runs through the rules, and after a few laughs, the first three quartets to sing are drawn at random. Each quartet takes their turn, and they draw their song from the jar as they take the stage. Preparation time is only 5 seconds as the pitch is blown and they begin singing their song. The audience is completely involved in the competition, and every quartet is given a huge round of applause as their final notes float across the stage. As all ten quartets go through the experience and the atmosphere is completely electric as every person in the room is either being judged or are judging the contestants to see if the judges get it right. Finally, the judge's decisions are presented to the top three quartets. Recognition is given, pizza is served, and the start of a long night of quartet sampling, recalling the contests, the concert, the weekend, the friendships and congratulations. Enter these emotions: Blessed, amazing experience, what a great quartet sound this is, these guys are great, tired but not willing to sleep, gotta sing another one, its 3:00 in the morning!! This is so addictive, this has been the greatest singing ever.

11.    It's 3:30 AM and sleep finally arrives. You finally get to bed, but your head is so full of songs, faces, places, experiences, tags, ringing chords, and pride, you don't think you will be able to sleep, but exhaustion is real, and your brain lets you sleep at last. Since Sunday continental breakfast is open until 10:00, you get up just in time to snag a quick breakfast and find a group of guys to visit with before you pack out and head for home. Enter these emotions: Respect, grateful, weary, filled with great memories, proud to have been here, anxious to see the next envelope arrive in the mail next June.

Ok, so now we've broken down each of the Brigade weekend events into workable blocks, so it's time to pull together a complete sentence that can explain the Harmony Brigade Weekend to your Barbershop friends. Let's try putting all of the emotions into one sentence and see how it goes.

The Harmony Brigade weekend is an experience that leaves you feeling gracious, proud, accomplished, eager, humbled, curious, panicked, excited, worried, amazed, challenged, worthy, determined, exhausted, speechless, lucky, thankful, nervous, anxious, supportive, relieved, accomplished, proud, glad, and in complete awe of the people you just spent two days singing with.

There you have it, now just memorize this and when you get a chance to describe a Harmony Brigade Weekend to your family and friends, you'll be able to completely describe the experience.


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