On Saturday (July 14) I spent much of my day attending two excellent events. In the afternoon, I was part of a full-to-the-rafters Music Hall (every single seat was sold, meaning more than 3,400 people were in attendance!) for the final Champions Concert, featuring 11 groups that were judged to be the best in their respective categories. I had a chance to see Fairfield High's Choraliers, named the outstanding Show Choir, as well as the heartfelt Jeremy Winston Chorale, from Wilberforce, Ohio, winners of the Gospel category. (Interestingly, Jeremy Winston was once a member of The Aeolians from Oakwood University of Huntsville, Alabama, the group that won the Spirituals category.) Several children's groups, notably the Vocalista Angels from Indonesia (Children's Choirs) and Wenzhou Children Art School Boys Choir from China (Young Children's Choirs), demonstrated incredible talent and discipline with kids who are still elementary school. The Music Contemporanea category winner was Stellenberg Girls Choir from South Africa, yet another group — this one comprised of approximately 80 adolescent girls — directed by André van der Merwe.
Among the several chamber group categories, I was most moved by the smallest group: Seven beautiful young women from Latvia, performing as "Latvian Voices," performed two numbers as much like chant as singing, using smooth harmonics and powerful vocal ranges as their music rose and fell, with single and multiple voices weaving in and out. Quite remarkable, and a kind of invitation to the next games — to be held in Riga, Latvia, in 2014.
The Greater Harrisburg (Pennsylvania) chapter of Sweet Adelines that I had seen on Thursday was back to celebrate their championship in the first-ever competition for Barbershop singing, and best of all was another chance to witness a repeat performance by the Kearsney College Choir, a group of 65 high school boys from South Africa. Their thumping, rhythmic rendition of a Folklore number (the category they were named champions in) about King Shaka, "father of the Zulu nation," was a rousing finish to the two-and-a-half concert at Music Hall.
The closing event was held at U.S. Bank Arena on Saturday evening, with approximately 11,000 people in attendance. There were lots of choirs there, sitting together and making their presence known. Cincinnati Mayor Mark Mallory urged them to return to their homes and "tell everyone about the great hospitality you received here." It was also announced that Interkultur, the organization behind the games, plans to establish a U.S. office here in Cincinnati. Reports indicate that the group is seriously considering staging a "Choirs of the Americas" event, likely here in Cincinnati, possibly in 2013.
The program saw a hand-off of the WCG flag to the mayor of Riga, Latvia, as well as another performance by the powerful presence of the seven young women constituting Latvian Voices. The balance of the evening was an eclectic performance by the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra and the May Festival Chorus, amplified by numerous WCG choirs in the seats behind them at the north end of the U.S. Bank Arena. Their ad libbed choreography made a festive evening even more so, and it was frequently shown on the large video screens in the Arena. The musical program featured Broadway star Idina Menzel and Gospel singer Marvin Winans; they combined for a rendition of "Oh, Happy Day," joined onstage by other singers from Cincinnati Opera and the leaders of WCG.
As we walked out, there as an impromptu performance on the plaza between the arena and Great American Ball Park by the Gema Chandra Cendrawasih University Choir from Papua, Indonesia. The 49-member group, I learned, had an outrageous week of headaches traveling from Jakarta to Cincinnati, arriving on Saturday, too late to compete. They decided to entertain the crowd leaving the closing ceremony — hundreds of people circled them as they danced wearing grass skirts and body paint, warbling, shouting, singing and whistling through the numbers they would have performed in the Folklore category. Arrangements were made for them to sing at a Madisonville Church on Sunday, but then they needed to begin the arduous task of returning to Indonesia.
There were many takeaways from the two weeks of WCG in Cincinnati, and I'll be writing about those in my CityBeat column later this week. The theme of the Games is, "Singing together brings nations together." I saw it happen right here in Cincinnati.