The Seventh World Choir Games are happening in Cincinnati right now. Austria, South Korea, Germany, and China have previously hosted the biennial event but this year it’s our turn. The opening ceremony was Wednesday, competition started Thursday, and I got a small taste of the event on Friday. I could have prepared for my visit a little better but I had a great time anyway.
There are ticketed events, which include the big opening and closing ceremonies, and there are free events. The competition is divided into Open and Champions. The Champions participants are selected by a panel while any choir that meets certain requirements can enter the Open competition. Tickets can be (or at least could have been) purchased for specific events and there are daily Competition Flex Passes available. A Flex Pass will get you into any of the competitions “as seating is available”. Part of my poor planning included deciding on Friday that I was going on Friday. For some reason I thought I had to get my Flex Pass at the Aronoff Theater ticket office which opened at 10:00 or exactly the same time as the day’s first concerts. I had picked a Folklore Champions Competition to attend first. By the time I got my pass and walked to the venue (and discovered that I could have bought my pass there), the choirs and been performing to a packed house for half an hour. The doors opened briefly between each performance, a few people exited, and their replacements were allowed in. I evaluated my chances of getting in before it was over and they weren’t all that good. I slipped away and sought out the shuttle running between the venues. The shuttle stop was near where the choirs entered and exited. A group from the Czech Republic came by then some stragglers from a group that had apparently included some “down on the farm” material in their performance. One trustworthy member had been entrusted with an abundance of their props.
I rode the shuttle to Fountain Square where a free Global Village concert was in progress. That’s a choir from China on stage in the picture. In addition to the full slate of scheduled activities, impromptu musical outbursts can occur just about anywhere at anytime. The energetic group performing in front of the Rock Bottom Brewery is the Bel Canto Children’s Chorus from Red Hill, Pennsylvania.
In the afternoon, I easily made it inside for a Popular Choral Music Open Competition at the Aronoff. The theater’s size might be partly responsible for the large number of unfilled seats but I’m sure that the perceived quality has much more to do with it. These may not be the hand-picked cream-of-the-crop choirs of the Champions Competition but they’re pretty darned good. I thought that all six choirs I heard were very good, four were great, and that outfit from Poland was something above excellent.
I have, of course, absolutely no qualifications for offering anything close to a real evaluation of these groups. I can’t even make an untrained comparison between the Open and Champions Competition since the Popular Choral Music Open Competition was the only competition of either sort I actually saw. It started at 1:00 and ended about 3:15. I wandered back to Fountain Square and even popped into Rock Bottom Brewery for a cold one. Yes, I had just been sitting in air conditioned comfort for a couple of hours but at 100+ it doesn’t take long to get hot. As I sipped, I did something I should have done much earlier and looked a little more thoughtfully at the schedule. A Champions Competition was slated for 3:30 just a few blocks from the Aronoff. Had I headed there when the Popular Choral Music thing ended, I could have at least been in line when the doors opened. I walked on over but the line that existed at 4:15 was clearly enough the keep the event filled and then some.
The official temperature in downtown Cincinnati was a record breaking 104 Fahrenheit. As I walked back to Fountain Square, I snapped a couple of pictures of the kiosk at the bus plaza. It showed a solid 104 and I got a picture of that. Then, just as I was lowering the camera, a 105 appeared and I grabbed another shot. On the next cycle it was back to 104. Maybe it was just showing off for the camera. I have evidence of a 105 reading but, to be honest, I couldn’t tell the difference.
Temperature has certainly been a big story around here lately. Keeping residents and visitors safe is a real concern that Cincinnati is taking seriously. Although a big reopening celebration is a couple of weeks away, there was a ribbon cutting and dedication at the totally reworked Washington Park and its several fountains were clearly appreciated. The park is near Music Hall and the School for Creative & Performing Arts which are both being used for the Choir Games. Some large misters are operating on Fountain Square and, of course, there is always the Tyler-Davidson Fountain itself.
Maybe it was the heat that kept me from thinking clearly and organizing my day better. The Games are here through next week so maybe I’ll try again. Haphazard bouncing around was certainly enjoyable but actually hearing at least one Champions Choir seems like a worthwhile goal.
Oddly enough, the World Choir Games were not the reason I first marked July 6 on my calendar. I marked it when I heard that a favorite musician would be visiting Cincinnati and playing on the square. This isn’t him. This is a favorite musician but he doesn’t have to visit Cincinnati; He lives here. This is 86 year old Philip Paul. Remember Tiny Bradshaw’s Train Kept a Rollin’ or Hank Ballard’s The Twist or Freddie King’s Hideaway? All those recordings and a whole lot more had Philip Paul’s drums on them. He was pretty much the session drummer for King Records during their heyday. He still performs on weekends at the Cricket Lounge. When I realized that hanging around to see that out-of-towner would keep me in the area and that actually seeing him would keep me from the late Choir events, it seemed a perfect time to see the Phillip Paul Trio again. It’s good jazz from a rock ‘n’ roll and blues legend who happens to be a really nice guy, too.
This is the guy I’d marked my calendar for and was hanging around to see. Patrick Sweany is originally from Ohio but now lives in Nashville, Tennessee. In a way, I think the move may have been good for Cincinnati fans. Patrick occasionally returns to the Alliance, Ohio, area to visit family and play a few gigs in the ‘hood. Since Cincinnati is along one of the possible routes, we get to see him now and then, too. His music is a little bit blues, a little bit roots, a little bit soul, and a little bit rock ‘n’ roll.
Strangers may have been fooled by the perfectly combed hair and the shades that you can only buy in Nashville and then only with a prescription from your manager but us regulars know what happens when the music starts. And it looks like those great tunes and nothing-held-back performances may be winning over some new Cincinnati fans, too.