Sunday, January 29, 2012

Top 20 Movies

On the long drive to/from Viterbo three weeks ago my sons and I had a very enlightening discussion of our top 20 movies of all time.  I realized how much the list is affected by your age and the impact movies had on you at certain times in your life.  For instance, Star Wars easily makes my top ten simply because it was released when I was ten years old and trust me when I say this...there had NEVER been anything like it before.  The technology used for the special effects was ground breaking and quite simply mind blowing to a ten year old.  It was the single coolest thing I had ever experienced.   I went down to the River Hills theater downtown that sat on the site where Wells Fargo Arena is now (man I miss that place) and watched it at least ten different times. 

My kids on the other hand like Star Wars, but it didn't even crack their top 20 because there were other movies that impacted them as kids that were more important like The Sandlot.  A fine movie, but definitely not in my top 20.

I love movies.  I watch a lot of them.  I didn't realize how many until I decided one day that I was going to try to watch all of the Best Picture Oscar winners. I looked up the list online and discovered that I had seen like 45 of the winners since 1950.  That was shockingly high to me.

Anyway...all of that was to make this one point: this list was really hard for me to compile.  I didn't have a hard time selecting the movies, but more so putting them in an order that I can defend.  Here goes in reverse order:

20. Mr. Holland's Opus
19. Wall-E
18. The Sixth Sense
17. Little Miss Sunshine
16. O Brother, Where Art Thou?
15. The Shawshank Redemption
14. Rocky
13. I Am Sam
12. The Matrix
11. Gladiator
10. Schindler's List
9. Billy Madison
8. The Usual Suspects
7. Moulin Rouge
6. The Silence of the Lambs
5. Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope
4. Fight Club
3. Saving Private Ryan
2. The Godfather Parts I & II (I know it's two movies...sue me)
1. Braveheart

I'll make a series of follow up posts detailing why I selected these movies.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Grand Champs!!! Again!!!

Sorry I haven't been faithfully updating here like I vowed I would.  We've competed once more since I last posted.  On Saturday, January 21 we participated in Johnston High School's "Showzam" invitational.

Aside: I don't know why it's necessary to give your competition a fancy name.  Some of the ones we've attended or will attend this year are:

  • Raise the Roof
  • Showzam
  • Starstruck
  • Supernova
  • Spectacular
I guess it's a way to try to differentiate your competition from others, but as a participant or attendee it makes no difference at all in my opinion of your event.  I won't return or not return because you had or didn't have a cool name for your competition.  I'll make that decision based on how well you ran it and the quality of groups you're able to convince to come to your school.  Besides, nobody uses the names anyway.  If somebody asks me, "Where did you compete this weekend?" My reply will not be, "At SHOWZAM!!!"  It will simply be, "At Johnston." /endrant

It was a very close competition between us and Ankeny just as I suspected it would be.  Let me start by saying this...I really like Ankeny's directors, Lester Miller and Jim Cacciatore.  They're solid likeable guys who do great things with the kids over there.  Even though the style of show we produce is very different, I can see a lot of similarities between their program and ours.  The directors and kids seem to get along, but still have that student-teacher respect for one another.  They're very disciplined in their approach to preparing their show.  They obviously have great attention to detail and are very professional.

The daytime results were as follows:

Open Class
 1st - Urbandale "Studio 2012"
2nd - Ankeny "Visual Adrenaline"
3rd - Ankeny "Perpetual Motion"
4th - Lincoln East "Express"
5th - Indianola "Side One"

Prep Class
1st - Ankeny "Perpetual Motion"
2nd - Urbandale "Vitality"

Finalists (Top 6 scorers regardless of class)
1st - Urbandale "Studio 2012"
2nd - Ankeny "Visual Adrenaline"
3rd - Ankeny "Perpetual Motion"
4th - Urbandale "Vitality"
5th - Lincoln East "Express"
6th - Indianola "Side One"

So yeah...Ankeny and Urbandale took the top 4 spots in the daytime.  Studio 2012 also received the award for Best Band.  This is significant because of this.  Studio beat Visual Adrenaline by 1.5 points in the daytime. Our band outscored theirs by 4 points.  So our choir actually lost to Ankeny by 2.5 points, but our band was the difference between victory and defeat.

After the finals the order stayed the same except Vitality and Lincoln East swapped spots.  Studio was awarded Best Vocals and Visual Adrenaline was awarded Best Choreography.  The point difference in finals was 8.5 points due to the addition of 4 more judges.  At night Studio's band was 12 points ahead of Ankeny's.  So once again our stellar band was the difference between victory and defeat.  This makes me especially proud since I accompany the show choir on piano and am primarily responsible for taking care of the backup combo.

Next up on our schedule we host our own competition on February 10 and 11.  It's a lot of work, but very important to the success of our program.

I never know how to end these posts, so I'll just leave it at.......

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Grand Champs!!!

We did it! All the hard work for the 5 months has paid off.  Our varsity show choir took first place at the Waukee show choir competition including awards for Best Vocals, Best Choreography, and Best Band.  In the show choir world that is a clean sweep.

I'm incredibly proud of our kids and the effort they put forth.  They're starting to gel into a cohesive group with a collective goal and that is key to having a successful season.

This weekend we compete at Johnston and our main competition is Ankeny's "Visual Adrenaline".  I heard they were excellent this weekend at the University of Nebraska Lincoln competition and will be stiff competition. I'm nervous again.  I'll update later this week on our progress with the changes suggested by this weekend's judges.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Waiting for Waukee

First, let me say this.  I'm a lazy S.O.B.

A casino about 90 minutes from here is run by the Meskwaki indian tribe.  My son and I try to head over there every couple of months or so to play one of their cheap Texas hold-em donkaments.  They allow 18-year olds to play there and my son is only 19.  I can't wait until he turns 21 so we can just go over to Prairie Meadows Racetrack and Casino to play.  It's only 15 minutes from here and is, in my opinion, just better in every way.  The action is better.  The dealers are better.  The management is better.  Trust me, it's better.

I took today off from work in anticipation of returning from the casino later than my bedtime.  Anyway, we decided against going because there was the threat of snow and we had a very harrowing trip back from there in a snow storm last winter that I wasn't aching to repeat.  Did I get up and go to work?  No....of course not.  I stayed up late playing video games and drinking Blue Moon Belgian ale and slept in until almost noon. L-A-Z-Y.

I guess I deserve some down time considering the craziness that is the show choir competition season is about to kick off this weekend.  On Saturday we head about 5 miles from Urbandale High School over to Waukee High School to compete in their show choir invitational known as "Starstruck".  This competition may be our toughest of the year as far as trying to win the whole thing for one reason: Totino-Grace "Company of Singers."

Totino-Grace is a powerhouse show choir from a Catholic school in the Minneapolis area. We have rarely beaten them in our history.  I think it may have happened a grand total of two times in the dozen or so times we have faced them.  Last year we lost to them by 20 points (a pretty big margin from 1st to 2nd at a show choir event) on a night when we felt like we had our best performance of the year.

I think our show choir is the most prepared we have ever been at this point in the season and I really like our show.  I don't know a thing about Totino's show or how good they are expected to be this year.  I just know that they are always good, but can slip up early in the season thanks to their abundance of costume changes and props.  All of that makes me think this might be our best chance in a while to steal a win from them.

For anyone that might stumble across this blog (I haven't promoted it at all) who are interested, here are Studio's selections this year:

"Breakin' Loose"
A Damon Brown and Anita Cracauer original.  It's cheesy fun with a train theme and a sort of fifties hand jive feel.

"Sound of Silence"
It's a creepy re-imagining of the Paul Simon classic.  This one features some really cool band moments from pizzicato strings on the synth to timpani in the percussion.  I think this will be the song the crowd talks about the most after the show.

A typical Josh Groban ballad from the soundtrack for the movie Troy.  I don't think it is as technically difficult as last year's ballad, but could be very special if the students really sell it the right way visually.

"Forget You/Get Over It"
Our girls are definitely the strength of our group this year and they open this number with a cool swing/big band version off the Cee-Lo Green hit.  Then the boys smack you in the face with a cocky and rockin' rendition of "Get Over It" from The Eagles.  It's not a super well known song, but when the boys fully commit to the intensity of the song it is very, very entertaining.

The closer begins with a little known Neil Diamond piece called "Be" that is from the soundtrack of the movie "Jonathan Livingston Seagull." It is definitely not well known, but has a very impressive solo by senior Adam Brown that changes keys three times before his solo ends and he has to cover a range that goes from low A to A-flat above middle C. "Astonishing" will be recognized right away by the Broadway afficianados in the crowd as the inspirational ballad sung memorably by Sutton Foster in the musical "Little Women." We have taken it way up tempo, but I think it is true to the original piece and still just as inspirational thanks to the amazing vocals of our group.  They are singing at the end of their show like most groups wish they could at the beginning.  If they pull it off and sing powerfully, yet still healthfully, at the end of their show, the judges will have no choice but to reward us with a good placing.

Anyway...I'm nervous and can't wait until this Saturday.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

On Show Choir Judging

One of the regulars on the forums initiated a discussion about requirements to be a judge. This is a very interesting topic for me, but I'm not going to argue it with a bunch of high schoolers on a web forum.  I can't really tell you what I want in a show choir judge other than to say that they should have experience in SHOW CHOIR.

Sure it's nice to be able to say you have a judge that is a Broadway star or that they've danced with Desmond Richardson's company, but I want them to understand our medium.  Too many times I've seen a competition hire a judge who has vocal training and no show choir experience and it turns out badly. (Onalaska 2004 anyone?) Their scores are almost always waaaaaaayyyyy out of whack when compared to the other more experienced judges.

Some people would tell you they want their judges to have a college degree in music or dance or some other performance related field.  I don't personally think that's necessary if they have equivalent experience.  I don't have a college degree, but I feel I'm more than qualified to judge show choir thanks to my 25+ years working with one and learning the ins and outs of what makes them great.  My only problem with judging a competition is that my ADD would probably cause me to lose interest after about 5 or 6 groups.  One of these years I'm going to sit with the judges on the Urbandale panel and score the entire day of shows just to see if I can do it and to see if my results match up with the other "official" judges.

The other big topic in show choir judging is the scoring system.  I prefer for the judges to actually use a score sheet for both prelims and finals so they are judging the product on the stage and not solely their personal preference.  I'm a big fan of the "Fehr Fair" system of scoring.  It is a ranking based scoring system that bows to the consensus of the panel, but in order for it to be effective you need a fairly good sized group of judges.  The judges score on a score sheet and their scores are converted to a rank (1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc.).  In most ranking based systems those ranks are then totaled to get your result.

For example:

Group A's Ranks:  1 1 2 5 1 2 = 11
Group B's Ranks:  2 2 1 1 2 2 = 10
Group C's Ranks:  3 3 3 3 4 3 = 19
Group D's Ranks:  4 4 4 5 4 5 = 26 a traditional ranking system Group B would be the champion because they had the lowest aggregate total thanks to the 4th judge giving Group A 5th place.  However, that doesn't reflect the consensus of the judges.  In the Fehr Fair system you start by determining which group received the most 1st place ranks.  In this case Group A is your champion nullifying the unusually low ranking given by one judge.  You continue in that manner looking for the group that received the most 2nd place ranks, etc.  There are more complex tie-breakers, but that's it in a nutshell.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Viterbo 2012

My sons and I attended the show choir competition yesterday at Viterbo University in Lacrosse, Wisconsin.  It's not really kosher for me to give my detailed opinions on the shows I watched or what the outcome should have been.  Judging one of those competitions is difficult enough without having your decisions severely scrutinized and picked apart by every armchair show choir judge in the world.  I'll just say this...the majority of people that complain about show choir competition results have never tried to sit and score based on the actual score sheet at a competition.  It's grueling and difficult mostly because there are so many top tier groups that are similar in ability doing great things these days.

We got there in time to watch every single open class group.  I was very impressed with all the groups I saw.  It used to be that my own group from Urbandale would win early competitions every year thanks to our exacting preparations.  We were always the most prepared at the beginning of the season and it paid dividends.  That's no longer the case.  I saw at least four groups yesterday that were in end of season form. 

Spending an entire day at a show choir competition gives you the chance to see some of the best and worst of humanity. When you squeeze thousands of people into a small space there is going to be some conflict.  Most of my complaints at these events have to do with selfish or inconsiderate people.  We run a large competition at our school so I understand how much work it takes and how badly some of the attendees will behave.  I witnessed at least two instances of said bad behavior.

We arrived and paid our admission and turned to head up the hallway to the performance venue, but our path was blocked.  The show choir from Lacrosse Logan was just heading to the stage and had to cross the hallway.  A young Viterbo student was standing with her arms outstretched to indicate the the crowd trying to go down the hallway needed to wait until the show choir finished crossing.  You can see where this is heading right?  My sons and I were right in the front of the pack of people waiting when about four students wearing Lacrosse Central shirts and jackets pushed their way to the front of the crowd and with an enthusiastic "Excuse me" ducked under the Viterbo student's arms and shot through the line of Logan students.  Apparently the same social mores and rules that kept us waiting patiently abiding by the request of the event organizers did not apply to them. 

"Oh well, they're kids and they just didn't stop and think about it" I said to myself.  Just then a 50'ish woman pushed her way to the front and asked, "Can I go through?" The Viterbo student and I answered at almost the exact same time with, "No, you have to wait until the show choir crosses to the stage." Did she acquiesce and wait like the rest of us?  Of course not.  She looked down the hallway and saw that the end of the show choir train was just a few feet down.  "I'll just go around them," she said.  And with that she pushed her way between the wall of the hallway and the waiting show choir members.  I was astounded.

If you've attended a show choir competition, you've probably seen the venue fill up as the day progresses.  Most events grant the performance slots at the end of the day to the best groups, so everyone tries to cram into the auditorium to watch.  The emcee begs and cajoles the audience to make room for others and not to save seats.  It doesn't do any good.  After the afternoon break we headed into the balcony to find some seats for the top groups.  We were pleased to see lots of available seats, but we soon found they were almost all saved.  Those same Lacrosse Logan students that had blocked my path in the hallway as they headed to perform were now saving about 30 seats. I was incredulous and I didn't hide my disgust with their selfishness. 

However, every time I attend a show choir competition I meet nice people.  I spent time sharing a table in the cafeteria with a lovely couple from West Delaware, Iowa.  I got to trade opinions with a few friends I've made at show choir discussion forum.  I also got to greet many of the directors from other show choirs that I'll start competing against in the weeks to come.

The best part though was that I got to spend the day with my sons sharing an activity we all enjoy and are passionate about. I also got them in the car for 8 hours as we traveled to and from Lacrosse.  We listened to music, sing along, and had a rousing discussion about our top 20 movies of all time. I think that will be my next post, so look forward to my list of favorite movies in the days to come.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Post Number One

So this is exciting.  I've always wanted to have a place to share my thoughts about anything and everything.  I don't know if anybody at all out there in the world will care what I have to say, but I'm going to try to force myself to post at the very least every other day whether I want to or not.

I meant to start doing this at the very beginning of our show choir season to chronicle all of the hard work that goes into preparing a top-notch competition show choir set.  I'm afraid Glee has made it seem that the shows are just hastily thrown together based on whatever drama the members happen to be dealing with that week.  Are any other musicians that watch that show amazed at how they walk in, hand out music, and every single high school kid in the group just nails their part on the first try without pounding any notes?  Trust me....that never happens.  There is about five percent of most high school choirs that can sight read with any sort of proficiency.  A lot of them can get it after hearing it a couple of times, but there is a pretty significant number of high school musicians that never bother to read music past basic stuff like "the notes get higher as they go up the scale."

Anyway, my sons and I are trekking up to Viterbo University in Lacrosse, Wisconsin tomorrow morning to watch the first major show choir competition in this area.  I'm very excited to get to see a few of the top groups from Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin.  Check back here tomorrow or Sunday for my take on the competition.  Maybe if it looks well run I can talk Mr. Brimeyer (Urbandale's vocal music director) into taking our varsity show choir there next year.