Here Come the Men in Blaque

Photo Courtesy of Kenneth Haro

As the gigantic American flag raised overhead, it finally hit fifth-year voice major Kenneth Haro. UCI’s all-male chamber choir Men in Blaque took home three gold medals in the World Choir Games in Shaoxing, China.

Competing in the music contemporenea, folksong and standard male chamber categories, Men in Blaque earned gold medals in all three and won the entire standard male chamber choir division.

Directed by Professor Joseph Huszti, who started the group in 1997, Men in Blaque has represented the United States of America in international competitions many times before. But this may have been their best performance yet.

“I have to say it’s the best group I’m in right now,” said Haro, the vice president of choirs on campus, and the acting president for fall quarter. “The performances we do are so tight-knit, because we know each other. If you ever have a chance to hear a group that’s been together for an extended time, you can just tell the dynamic of the group is so many notches above then a group that’s only been together a year or two.”

Men in Blaque is different from traditional college choirs in that there is no age limitation. Haro is going into his fourth year with the group, and many others have been with the group since 1997. Men in Blaque can actually be taken for course credit, but most of its members just come back because they love the group.

Huszti and crew started preparing for the Games back in September of 2009, practicing every Sunday for three hours. Once the school year ended, and the group no longer had to worry about other concerts, the Men in Blaque got serious.

“When summer hit, we practiced everyday for hours and hours on end,” Haro said. “A lot of sweat, blood and tears went into it. [All of the members] had to make pretty big sacrifices to do this.”

About a week before the festival in July, Men in Blaque flew out to Shanghai to get acclimated and perform some minor concerts.

“Even [in China], we were waking up at 8 o’clock, working for hours each day, singing where ever we could,” Haro said. “The festival rolled around and we had rehearsed it so many times that … I don’t know, I’ve been in groups that felt nervous or a little unprepared going up there, but being in this group of guys that I’ve known for years and rehearsing day after day, it was so easy going up there.”

In regards to experience, the three-gold-medal showing was a marked improvement from the two-silver-medal and one-gold-certificate showing in Xiamen, China in the 2006 Choral Olympics. As for prestige, the World Choir Games boasted an impressive resume.

“One of the composers was judging us on one of the songs he wrote, and also the president of the [American Choral Directors Association],” Haro said. “You have this board of amazing people just looking at you, judging you on their music and their directing … it was a little intimidating.”

On top of all the accolades that Men in Blaque picked up, the mere experience and journey of being in China is something that will not soon be forgotten.

“Festival aside, you got a real idea of the world,” Haro said. “Hundreds of thousands of other choirs were there. It hits you because you see other choirs and other cultures.”

To top it all off, as one of only three American choirs present (the other two were a high school jazz choir and a children’s choir), Men in Blaque had the unique opportunity to sing for their country.

“It’s a highlight of one’s life,” Haro said. “The most dramatic thing was during the awards ceremony. It hits you when it’s like the traditional Olympics … and they play your national anthem, they raise your national flag, and you’re on stage in front of thousands and thousands of people, singing your national anthem for your country. I’m going to remember that. We got three gold medals, but the thing I’m going to remember most is singing up there for my country. A gold medal is just an object but the memories are really what makes the difference.”

To learn more about getting involved with UCI Choirs, check out Festival of Choirs, where all the UCI choirs get together and perform. New for this year is a women’s choral group as well as an alumni choir.

“I would say [UCI choir] is a strength of the school,” Haro said. “I’ve heard choirs from all over California, and Professor Huszti is definitely a diamond in the rough. The fact that UCI has this guy is definitely amazing.”