Sunday, May 29, 2011

Big Sing

After seeing a tweet late yesterday afternoon saying: Concert tonight glenroy auditorium Dunedin. Best harmony singing around. Raising money for chch. 7.30 pm $10 entry - it was from mackersline, the username of one of the ODT writers - and then getting further confirmation (when I struggled to find it online) saying; Barbershop choruses from dunedin and chch women from Dunedin and two other Dunedin chorus, we decided to go and check it out, $10 a head being a reasonable price for us pensioners! (Just have to stick that in.)

When I did find it online, I noticed that Sunny Side Up were also performing, and that made the effort of getting out well worthwhile. We're good friends with some of the people in this group, but that's not the only reason we like to hear them sing. They bring a vibrancy to their singing that's different to anything else around (in Dunedin), and last night was no exception.


Their items came in the middle of the programme. They're not a slick group in the sense of choreographing their items, though they don't exactly stand still either, but they have some excellent singers (at least three of whom are people we know) and they perform songs that are out of the ordinary rather than old favourites from yesteryear; they pick up material that has its roots in Negro spirituals, or comes out of the folk streams of different countries (often including American folk). Last night they also sang Hey Jude with a strong solo from Bill, and Up above my head with an absolutely superb solo from Karen. Bill and Karen are also part of a singing quartet we've heard on several occasions: in fact they've more than once sung at gatherings such as birthdays we've attended, or put on ourselves (where they've happened to be part of the guest list).

Sunny Side Up was also the most 'diverse' group of the evening: one of the singers was in a wheel chair; they had an Indian woman playing drums a couple of times, and the people come from a wide range of backgrounds. This diversity was emphasized perhaps by their scarves, the only item they had in common (this group doesn't wear any sort of uniform) - these ranged over the whole colour spectrum.

Anyway, you can see I (we) like this group!

But we also liked the other groups too, and the range of singing talent in Dunedin was shown again and again. Some groups are stronger than others, which is only to be expected; nevertheless there was no group about which it could be said that they lacked the necessary skills to perform.

The evening opened with the Highland Harmony men's group. These guys tend to sing barbershop style songs arranged for choir, and I enjoyed them a lot - they also had the advantage of being on first. There's something soul-stirring about the sound of men singing in harmony. One of my favourite movie moments comes in Crimson Tide (or it might be The Hunt for Red October), where, as the sailors stand out in the pouring rain waiting to go on board their submarine, the sound track is filled with a choir of men singing the old hymn, For those in peril on the deep. If the film consisted of nothing else, it would be worth watching (listening to, perhaps).

A women's group, Distinctive Sounz, followed. Again they did their items well, but they seemed to have more altos and sopranos, and this somewhat limited the range of what they could sing.

Sunnyside Up came next and was followed by the Canterbury Plainsmen, a very experienced men's group from Christchurch. (Something else that's noticeable about these groups: the age range is often huge - this ChCh group had at least one teenager, and several guys who would have been well into their sixties, if not older.) The Plainsmen were excellent, but their style is very much national competition, which I suspect is based on an American approach to these kinds of barbershop choirs: the leader up the front doesn't just conduct the choir, he (or she in the case of the Dunedin Harmony Chorus, who followed next) is a bit of an actor too - very much so in the case of the Plainsmen. This is something that either suits your taste or doesn't; I'm not sure that either of us were enthused about the leader of the Plainsmen's approach, but it was a kind of integrated choreography which certainly gives some visual interest to the proceedings.

This choir has its own 'Unnamed Quartet' - the leader (singing as second tenor?) was part of this along with a guy from the choir who did a kind of falsetto solo version of Bring him home (from Les Mis) at one other point, and a young bass and baritone. Very stylish, though each of them was better as part of the group than when singing briefly as soloists.

There was also a female quartet called Nota Bene. Nice title. They're part of the Dunedin Harmony Chorus (formerly the Sweet Adelines, if my understanding is correct). This is an award-winning choir too, and you can see why. They're lively, the choir's full of good singers, and they work superbly together. (We also know one of the choir members well, but don't let that make you think I'm biased here!)

Nota Bene did a couple of items, substituting one about chocolate for one of the advertised pieces, because the latter was being sung elsewhere in the evening. We really enjoyed their items: the words were clear and snappy, the harmonies secure, and the niftiness of their vocal movement with each other was top notch. (That's another factor about this concert: clarity of words was a plus; so often I hear choirs from the classical stream who sing beautifully but don't seem to have any concern for the words.)


The same applied when the full choir came on. This is a choir that deserves the awards it's received. Plus their sparkly uniform was just great...!

Finally the Plainsmen got together with the Highland Harmony guys for a big sing of some old favourites. As always they did very well, but I think by that time of the evening I'd had my fill, and I needed to get up and stretch - we could have done with an interval: two hours plus was just a bit long to be sitting on seats that aren't the softest.
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