LABBS at Llandudno

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Venue Cymru, LlandudnoVenue Cymru, LlandudnoThis weekend saw the 2010 LABBS Convention in Llandudno. The chorus contest was exceedingly closely-fought, with only 13 points in total (out of a possible 1800) separating first and third places. The quartet contest was clearer-cut for the outright winner (last year’s bronze medallists, Miss-Demeanour), but it was hard to predict who was going to pick up the bronze medal.

(On a personal note, I was pleased to see the three competing choruses I had coached during September come away with prizes. Amersham A Cappella landed gold medals, Green Street Blues picked up bronze, and Bristol Fashion received the Peter Caller award to celebrate their scores moving from ‘division 2’ level up into ‘division 1’.)

As one of the judges, I love those occasions when we have to wait for the announcement to be sure who’s won. It’s a long day, and we’re pretty tired by the end of it, so sharing the anticipation with the audience keeps the spirits up through all of the miscellaneous business that goes on between the end of the contest and the announcement of the results when we can finally go off duty. You enjoy the story more if you don't know the ending before everyone else does.

I remarked after the BABS Convention earlier this year on the way that an exciting contest produces a good afterglow. (Where ‘good’ entails both a sense of the buzz within the room as it goes on, and how long it continues before people finally run out of energy.) And you could make the same observation of Saturday’s experience. I only made it through till 2.30 after a full day’s judging, but there would have been plenty of party left for me to enjoy had I not run out of steam.

And it’s interesting to reflect on what makes a contest exciting, especially in the context of an event that happens every year, and could therefore become emotionally routine. The unpredictability of the top results was certainly part of it, and also the possibility (and then actuality) of a winner coming in from behind – Amersham weren’t even in the medals last year.

I don’t think it was just the drama of position, though – compelling as that narrative is. It was also the performance itself, which brought qualities to the stage that the association had not seen from that chorus before. There was a spritz, an energy, and a confidence that people hadn’t previously seen that group of people produce.

And the story that tells is of the possibility of transformation. Nobody is surprised to hear the White Rosettes sounding fantastic – they’ve been doing that for years. But it’s easy to think that they’re a special case, and normal choruses can’t do that. When people get jaded with contest, it’s because they feel that they work hard all year and nothing changes – same old scores, same old placings. And there were inevitably some people nursing those kinds of disappointments this year.

But they had also seen a chorus that had spent several years bumping in and around the same level just under or just into the medals raise their game and produce a performance that defied the stereotypes that had accrued round them during that time. Even if people were down about their own results, they had been given reason not to despair. They had been shown that it is possible to change your fate.

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