A Thoroughbred Christmas

By Jean Metcalfe

If The delicious aroma of hot cider greeted fans of barbershop music at Memorial Auditorium on the first day of December, providing a warm-up act for The Thoroughbred Chorus's 47th Annual Christmas Show, "Radio Days."

Nattily attired in black tuxes trimmed with, sparkling silver (Sam Meyers, take a bow), the 100-member male chorus opened the show with "Smile Medley," no doubt putting a broad grin on each person in the audience. This seven-time International Champion barbershop chorus knows how to harmonize.

A cupped-ear announcer, a bumbling sound effects kid and corny commercials carried out the radio theme. Zeroing in on the World War II years, the chorus invited veterans to stand when their branch of the service was saluted in song. Goosebumps came as the silver-haired gentleman two seats down stood proudly during "Anchors Aweigh" and they remained through the chorus' stirring patriotic medley that included "America the Beautiful."

The dapper 4-Gone Conclusion Quartet charmed with a nice version of "Blue Mood Indigo," followed by a solo of "Perfidia" from retiring musical director Ken Hatton, who is perhaps best known as lead singer for the S.P.E.B.S.Q.S.A. (ask any barbershopper) International Champion Bluegrass Student Union quartet.

Associate Director Dave Hasch soloed on "Twilight Time," and other quartets entertained with nice versions of "Moonglow," "Under the Boardwalk," and "Goodnight Sweetheart."

A "Walter Concrete" news break led to a dancin', movin' chorus number, "What Is Music," that found the audience enthusiastically clapping along.

Following the Four Men Only quartet's fine rendition of "Sittin' on Top of the World," Hatton passed the musical director torch to Ken Bucker. Act I ended with Buckner directing an upbeat "lf the Lord Be Willin' and the Creek Don't Rise."

A brief intermission and the smell of hot cider enticed the audience members to the lobby where they could purchase holiday items made by members of the Thoroughbreds' Ladies' Auxiliary.

The singing of Jingle Bells" by the chorus welcomed the audience to Act II and set the mood for the Christmas portion of the evening.

A special highlight was The Way Over Forty-Four Quartet. Like a "Saturday Night Live" commercial, we were taken by their tardy entrance and squirmed in our seats as the chorus and directors feigned embarrassment and uncertainty. Agonizing seconds later, the four gents snailed onto the stage, looking like senior citizens gone south for the winter. They leaned on canes (not of the peppermint-candy variety) and sported loud ties and suspenders or belts that neatly circled the area just a degree or two north of the waistline.

The heartiest guffaws came for their revised version of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" ("The Restroom Door Said 'Gentlemen,"'), wherein an irate woman in the mislabeled ladies room had inflicted an injury most foul on the intruders. The result: They would "never sit with comfort and joy." The elder statesmen's "Senior Citizen's Blues" was likewise comical, containing lines such as "Lately it's tough gettin' off of my duff."

The Pride of Kentucky Sweet Adelines chorus was back this year by popular demand of last year's audience, and they lived up to the compliment. Dressed in an impressive array of combinations of white-and-silver costumes, they absolutely set the scene for their "Winter Wonderland." A snowman danced onstage with dynamic director Debbie Hite; a snowball sailed through the air. The chorus' costuming and stage presence personified the lyrics: "A beautiful sight, we're happy tonight ..."

And they could sing, too!

"We Need a Little Christmas," they harmonized, then followed up with "Snow Time" and a mood-setting "Blue Mood Indigo." (Nobody seemed to mind that an earlier quartet had already done the classic tune).

The chorus introduced its own version of "Bill Bailey," waxed nostalgic with "Just a Bundle of Old Love Letters," then perked their audience up with a spirited "Get Happy." (It was hard for this former Pride of Kentucky bass to keep from singing along.)

"I Only Have Eyes for You" was followed by a slightly revised version of "Somebody Stole My Gal (Pal)" and then a stirring final number, "It is Well With My Soul."

Amen!

The Gas House Gang, S.P.E.B.S.Q.S.A.'s 1993 International Quartet Champions from the St. Louis area, gave a brief preview of what they would be performing on the two Dec. 2 shows. "This Is My Lucky Day," they harmonized in four parts, then kayoed with a song they had had commissioned to impress a quartet member's college professors, who were mostly into classical music. The latter was a wonderful (and surely difficult) barbershop reading of music from the opera "The Magic Flute." Bravo!

The Thoroughbreds closed out the evening with "The Christmas Story," ably narrated by Dick Carlton, and replete with traditional Christmas carols.

A bonus "Silent Night" brought the evening's entire cast onstage and into the audience to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and send them home with a warm feeling that was not induced by the cider.

The Thoroughbreds invite men who are interested in singing barbershop harmony to come to their "Guest Night" on Jan. 15, 7:30 p.m, at Thoroughbred Hall, 10609 Watterson Trail, Jeffersontown. Family members are also welcome. The chorus will present a mini concert and light refreshments will be served.

The Thoroughbreds have a 10-song album, From This Moment On..., available for purchase in both cassette and CD formats ($10/15 + S&H). For more information about the album phone 800-29T-BRED. .

To book the seven-time international Champion Thoroughbreds (large or small ensemble), call Chorus Manager John D. Zehnder at 502-267-7464 or Fax 502-425- 0478.

For membership or booking information for the Pride of Kentucky Chorus call 502-368-SONG.

All Sweet Adelines (past and present members of Kentuckiana, Falls of the Ohio, Derby City, and Pride of Kentucky chapters) are invited to greet old friends and hear some old songs at a "Harmonic Convergence" reunion on Tuesday, Jan. 30, 7:30 p.m., at the Buechel Park Baptist Church, 2403 Hikes Lane.