NQC 11: Thursday night

Tonight I made an executive decision to cut out early and get some rest. Watch this space for more tomorrow a.m. on what I heard this evening. In the meantime, feel free to supply your own thoughts.

Update: Last night it seemed to me the less said about Thursday’s lineup and experience the better, and sleep has only reinforced that inclination. One doesn’t, of course, come to NQC with the expectation of uninterrupted excellence, but even by this standard last night was rough going. A few moments stood out:

The Collingsworth Family: they are an unbreached and fully fortified wall of sound. This is not a new discovery, but each year, as those children age and their voices mature, the wall gets stronger and richer and rises up every higher and higher so that by the time near the end of the set when they closed with an a cappella arrangement, they seemed to be singing just a little lower than the angels. Theirs is an astonishing edifice of music that sounds so much like it’s constructed with the assistance of vocal tracks that I had to independently verify that the Cworth’s don’t use backing tracks with two separate People Who Know (this is, I gather, an edict of Mother Collingsworth; more on her momentarily). And this is true not just when it’s the six of them together, when it sounds like they’re doubling a trio arrangement and so might be expected by dint of sheer numbers to create a fully developed sound. It’s also true when it’s just break-outs of three or four of them. What I noticed more than anything else for the first time this year is Kim Collingsworth as a singer and stage presence. I could do without the Lady Liberace thing she does at the piano. I respect her abilities there and get it (a woman couldn’t bring the house down at the keyboard if brought 7 minutes of Stan Whitmire’s style), but the cooing tracks and the flashy parallel octaves aren’t any more interesting or less clichéd when she uses them than when Dino did. But not since Kim Ruppe Lord have I heard a female singer get non-ginned-up applause in the middle of a song for singing low notes. The woman has this kind of unadorned charisma and the charm of a preacher’s wife who probably should have been the preacher (I assume that’s a metaphor, since I don’t recall ever hearing that Phil Collingsworth was a preacher, but if he is, all the better for my point). The whole set was captivating.

Doug Anderson and Devin McGlamery: Aside from the Collingsworths, the only other set that regularly pulled the night out of the slough of despond and a sound that was for the most part swampy and sour all evening long was EHSSQ, particularly McGlamery’s lead work, which is gifted and endearing and probably doesn’t get the appreciation it deserves, and Anderson’s performance of “I’ll Take What’s Left,” off his new solo album. I suggested on Wednesday that the group needs to worry less about covering old Cats songs and get about the work of reimagining southern gospel quartet music as something other than nostalgia or self-righteous ministry – work that the group really seems more interested in and inclined toward anyway. And much of last night’s set seemed to provide a glimpse of just such a reimagination. The set opened with a few tunes from the group’s new album, which led to Anderson’s song. Befitting the song’s title, it was an acoustical spare and thoughtful solo, or actually, a duet really, with Wayne Haun on the piano. Haun has never occupied the typical piano player role in the group, serving more as arranger in residence who also plays keyboards. But last night he created a kind of musical dialog with Anderson’s lovely voice, amplifying the song’s textures and providing an instrumental harmony that was beautifully thoughtful and affecting. If, as the song’s lyric has it, this is all that’s left, I’ll take it too.

And then there was everything else, or what I could stand of it (I was in and out all evening and left altogether halfway through the Dixie Echoes). The risk of even beginning to describe the remainder of the evening in a way that even approaches accuracy is that one would come off as gratuitously jaundiced, or just dumb for subjecting oneself to such a spectacle of speciousness over and over. But make no mistake, it was a bad night. As Betty Butterfield would say, the experience left me so stoved up I had to take six Celebrex. Well, at any rate, my head was addled enough by the swill on stage that I might have entertained the thought, had I had the means to self-medicate. Instead, all I found in my media bag was this:


I honestly am not sure what it is, but given the Pfeifers music, it seems appropriate: garish, plastic, and annoying.

Anyway, the general problem is primarily that so many southern gospel “singers” don’t really know how to sing that well (which isn’t to say they should necessarily sing a different style of music but that they don’t know how to create the sounds they want in ways that don’t degrade their voices over time). This is a common enough a problem, at least at talent contests and church, but instead of getting professional (re)training that you’d expect of people trying to have a career in music, they persist in their inability, seem to mistake it for a divine gift in no need of merely human cultivation, and make a calling out of professional musical malpractice.

That’s why the Kingsmen physically hurt my head (I’m not exaggerating; I wasn’t the only one in my section shielding my ears for much of their set). That’s why the track on Mark Trammell Quartet’s closing song was about as subtle and restrained as the finale to your average Transformers movie. That’s why, though I hope Brian Alvey, who is no slouch of a singer, gets the professional development someone in his position could benefit from and help the Talleys reinvent their songs and sounds (there were moments in their set last night which suggested that such reinvention is possible and full of great promise for him and them), I’m not hopeful. And that’s why even those professionals such as Arthur Rice and Debra Talley, who really did learn how to sing early on in their careers, and who are beginning to manifest the inevitable warbling vibrato that comes with age, they nevertheless don’t seem to be getting the support that would help them mitigate the unembarrassing problem (Rice, for his part at least, seems aware of the problem and it sounds like he’s trying to correct it by circumscribing his tones more, but the resulting sounds often have a serrated edge to them that shears away all the warmth and richness for which Rice became rightly famous).

Emerson (good Lord, what would Emerson have thought of the National Quartet Convention!) once memorably wrote that the moods of the writer do not agree with one another, and this could certainly be said of the music critic at NQC who didn’t drink the mood-stabilizing kool-aid. One arrives, year after everloving year, with great hope and anticipation of what moments of wonder might be possible, only to find the momentary pleasures overwhelmed by proudly unaccomplished amateurism calling itself professional music. The less moody writer might also note that last night’s line-up was pretty weak, even on paper, and tomorrow (or this evening) is another day. So until then, I’ll try to forget all the music that seems to plunder southern gospel’s past to distract from its present, precipitous decline, and as the song suggests, I’ll (try to) take what’s left.

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  1. Aaron Swain wrote:

    Best set of the night should probably go to the Dixie Echoes. What a sound with the new tenor and bass. I think the bass got kind of screwed on that mic (especially when the whole group sang, couldn’t hear the baritone and bass well), but Michael Helwig definitely stole the show on tenor. Powerhouse.

    Anybody else hear shades of David Phelps in that tenor for the Omega trio from the showcase?

    My roommate just walked in the dorm while I was watching the webcast with the laptop plugged up to the TV. He’s not a fan of Southern Gospel for the most part but he does respect music that is good (take that as you will.) He got to hear Jeff & Sheri Easter and the Dove Brothers. He wasn’t a fan of the Easters, but was very impressed with the Dove Brothers, Burman Porter especially. Quote after the set: “….I think that bass may be one of my new favorite singers. What a sound!”

    Heading in tomorrow to hear the stuff live. Looking forward to a good weekend.

  2. Bones wrote:

    Something about NQC is tiring. About of time and money spent Sometimes I think it is a mental thing. You just can’t believe it.

  3. Bones wrote:

    I mean alot.

  4. KC wrote:

    The GVB Reunion was the highlight of my day. Specifically, Buddy Mullins, Michael English, and David Phelps. David is always flawless. Larnelle Harris had some nice moments, too. =] Only bad thing, a Gaither show totally makes the rest of NQC sound lame - the lineup tonight was a bit of a snoozefest - doh!

  5. lovelife wrote:

    I was disappointed in GVB renunion and totally disappointed in Signature Sound. They just released a tribute of Cathedral songs and they step on stage and sing what they sang last night…..ugh

  6. observor wrote:

    I am so tired of hearing Cathedral songs I think I would have cried if Sig Sound would have done an entire set. How many Cathedral tribute groups can we possible have?????

  7. Dean Henson wrote:

    No Guy Penrod at the reunion, it was very good but he would have stepped it up another notch.

  8. j-mo wrote:

    who was present for the GVB reunion? Any Franklin or Pierce?

  9. yankeegospelgirl wrote:

    I’m the less moody writer. Last night was on the whole rather depressing (DBM had to be woken up a few times in the chat room). But there were moments. I thought the Dixie Echoes were brilliant. Also, the Booth Brothers managed to get everyone to stand at the last minute with “I Met the Master.” Say what you will about how over-blown the arrangement is, it got a Response at eleven something. No small feat.

    Aaron, I did hear a little Phelps in the guy from Omega, although it felt a bit pitchy to me. Brian was funny about his big voice though.

    Speaking of Brian, he & Sheri Easter were pretty classy emcees too.

    As for EHSS, it was an interesting set. I liked their last one better. Their first song was kind of boring, then their second one sounded a lot more promising, though they could have cut out one or both of the encores and saved room for another number. Then Doug’s solo was indeed beautiful, then “Oh What a Savior” was a little rocky but went fine, then “Glory to God” was fine as a closing number.

    I’m very curious about where they’re going to go with this new project. Here’s hoping it has more good songs on it than _Dream On_.

  10. Ron F wrote:

    Someone tell me was Guy Penrod even at NQC this year?

  11. lovelife wrote:

    I think the crowd would’ve responded a little more to Cathedral songs, than the way they responded to whatever it was they sang..And my goodness, stop shooting the confetti in the crowd..just sayin

  12. Nate Stainbrook wrote:

    My view of Thursday night from the nose bleeds: http://natessoutherngospelblog.wordpress.com/2011/09/15/nqc-2011-thursday-night/

  13. Noninsider wrote:

    Lovelife: L5 sang 2 former cats songs including “We Shall See Jesus”. Both songs got a better response than EHSS’s selections…

  14. Dean Henson wrote:

    I’ve noteen or heard any mention of Guy being anywhere at NQC.

  15. quartet-man wrote:

    Guy Penrod, Terry Franklin and Jonathan Pierce were all absent from the reunion.

  16. LaRolf McCoin wrote:

    What’s up with all the vacant seats at NQC? In almost every picture I have seen, from the concerts, it looks as though the attendance is way, way down. Can anybody elaborate?

  17. yankeegospelgirl wrote:

    I think that piece of kitsch might be a brush to clean out your keyboard. Just guessing though…

  18. lovelife wrote:

    No 13..I know..L5 did a great job on those songs. I just didn’t think EHSS was “On”…that’s all I meant.

  19. irishlad wrote:

    Nice to see Aaron giving Burman the thumbs up, you could listen to that guy all night long. I was at a Revelation concert last Sat night and the guys were flying out to the States the next day…id wonder did they show up the convention?

  20. BackwoodsPhilosopher wrote:

    Doug…..that was an excellent piece of writing. (Love your writing style, anyway)
    YankeeGospelGirl: Do you not understand a music critique? The same thing goes on in the New York Times in regards to the latest movies, books and CD’s .
    Doug……I have never understood why so many of the younger SGM singers are not encouraged to go to college and study music so they can learn the techniques necessary to explore their full potential. Plus, in the world we live in, a good education is very beneficial, just in case the music career doesn’t “take off”. I remember hearing a story that the late Tammy Wynette alway kept her cosmetology license, just in case in didn’t work out.

    I also don’t understand why many of the die-hard NQC attendees are content with a subpar sound system. Why is the NQC Board content with a subpar system? The NQC should be held to a higher standard - you don’t see this type of technological chaos in secular music. Why would folks buy tickets for 20 years to hear a sound that is not concise, clear and consistent?

    The NQC needs to bring in the “top-of-the-line” sound technicians to handle everyone’s performance. This switching back and forth between the group’s sound guys is just totally unprofessional and downright ridiculous. Again……have they not learned anything from Bill Gaither’s success?

  21. yankeegospelgirl wrote:

    On second thought, maybe it’s to clean out your coffee grinder?

  22. NG wrote:

    #16 I attended Mon-Wed and crowds seemed small but I can’t compare with recent years as I didn’t attend. I sat in different 100 sections every night and there were vacant seats around me. Two artists at booths told me that both crowds and their sales were down significantly from a year ago. The economy could be a factor as could the direction NQC is choosing to go. The double MCs, videos, commercials, Tim Lovelace, audience sing-alongs, showcase performers (some of whom were good) all used time that should have been given to the groups singing (even if some of that singing was not so good). My suggestion: Put the showcase acts on at 530. From 6 to 11, 9 groups get almost 30 minutes each leaving 30 minutes for a special event (tribute to Squire Parsons or whatever). But that won’t happen because it appears Clarke Beasley thinks audiences have short attention spans and so things have to keep changing on stage every few minutes. I’m old and maybe the younger fans like the changes but a lot of folks in the areas I sat took a lot of breaks from the concert every night.

  23. BackwoodsPhilosopher wrote:

    #22 NG:

    I assume that the NQC has bought into the same marketing trends that result in the “dumbing down of the American culture”, where tomorrow’s young folks won’t be able to sit still and pay attention unless they have an iPhone in one hand and an iPad in another. Today, our culture has to have constant visual stimulation…..or else they’re bored and unfocused. That’s sad….and it’s also the reason that they quality of the music is going downhill.

    Years ago, people were happy to hear
    a cappella performances or singing with minimal instruments, such as the piano and bass. It was about the harmony, the vocals, the words and the blend of it all. Today’s culture prefers a mass reincarnation of a Broadway show. Simplicity and quality has taken a backseat to illusions and showcases of grandeur.

    Plus, on top of this, I honestly believe that bringing in politicians to the NQC will result in smaller crowds as time goes by. People truly want to hear Gospel music, not a politician.

  24. quartet-man wrote:

    I think that party favor is a hand brush to clean your hands before shaking that artists’ hands. ;)

  25. quartet-man wrote:

    * the

  26. Bones wrote:

    I hope you were spared hearing Pheifers singing Oh, Holy Night. She kills me on that.

  27. BUICK wrote:

    Taste is certainly individual. I am not at the NQC but when I heard EH&SS, I was underwhelmed by Devin McGlamery. I understand Doug’s critique and I respect his opinion, I just don’t share it. I thought his voice was weak and his stage presence over-the-top. If he were as charming as he seems to think he is and if he could sing as well as he seems to think he can, he’d be a bona fide star. But, IMHO, he isn’t, he can’t and he isn’t. But then again, I thought Ryan Seaton was a fantastic lead and I gather some others didn’t agree with me on that, either.

  28. Aaron Swain wrote:

    #19: As my friend and fellow blogger Nate Stainbrook put it, Burman Porter is a highlight reel. What a bass.
    And yes, Revelation is at NQC. Saw them walking around and got to talk a bit. Nice guys.

  29. yankeegospelgirl wrote:

    #20: YankeeGospelGirl: Do you not understand a music critique? The same thing goes on in the New York Times in regards to the latest movies, books and CD’s .


    Are you sure you’re talking to me? I didn’t say anything about Doug’s critique. I shared a few thoughts of my own on the night and then offered a couple suggestions as to what the kitschy thingy was.

  30. yankeegospelgirl wrote:

    On Devin McGlamery: I did prefer Ryan’s voice, which is smoother on my ears. Little cleaner than Devin, just like his style better. But Devin is gifted. He would just be better if he let the melody speak for itself instead of dressing it up so much. I don’t want him to become Michael English #2.

  31. Josh wrote:

    #5…they didn’t just release a tribute project. That project was a full year ago. Their first set of the week had plenty of tribute material…time for something fresh.

  32. More wrote:

    NQC attendance Friday night was GREAT. Anyone claiming it is dead was not there. lol

  33. irishlad wrote:

    16 At the risk of sounding a bit cynical the reason for empty seats at the NQC is nothing more than the simple fact that those who once occupied those seats are either dead, house bound or otherwise incapacitated and sadly there’s no one interested in filling the places. :(

  34. Rick wrote:

    Well I suppose my opinion is just as good as everyone else’s, so here we go. The Kingdom Heirs is the best quartet in SGM at this moment. BGVB cannot hold a candle to the Kingdom Heirs. Bill Gaither had no use for NQC until all of his old stars died. He is the worst thing that could happen to NQC.

  35. Outsider wrote:

    # 27.

    Preach it brother!

  36. knows nothing wrote:

    “Bill Gaither had no use for NQC until all his old stars died”
    You my friend need to check your history and your FACTS.

  37. Jess wrote:

    Mr. Henderson, if you have a problem with the sound level blame the “professional” company hired to run the sound for NQC not MTQ or the Kingsmen. And yes I am tired of the Cathedral covers, if you can’t come up with any new material stay home. Speaking of home, the Pfeifers should just stay home - really. And I know for a fact many of the artists on stage at NQC have professional training as well as college degrees, Doug. Just because you don’t like them doesn’t mean they haven’t been trained. Some like chocolate some like vanilla. I happen to loathe Celine Dion. Her voice is like nails on a chalkboard to me. But millions disagree with me. Not a big Buble fan - again - millions disagree. Just don’t like their style. It’s ALL PERSONAL TASTE. Just because you don’t care for someone doesn’t make them “bad” or “irrelevant”. Yours, like mine, are just opinions. Remember, opinions are like noses - we all have them and they all SMELL!

  38. Bones wrote:

    Mary Jane looks at people like she is afraid that they will try to speak to her. I can let her know, I don,t want to.With Pfeifers.

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