Men in Blaque and Friends

When people hear the term “Men in Black,” some may instantly think of Will Smith and the third installment of the popular science fiction movie franchise. Professor Joseph Huszti, the conductor of the on-campus choir group Men in Blaque, admitted that although the title may sound catchy today, it was not something he gave much thought to when he formed the group.

“I liked the word ‘black’ and I knew that we would all dress in black clothing. I gave publications the word ‘blaque’ because I liked the way it was spelled, and then we later became Men in Blaque everywhere,” Huszti said.

Having brought home three gold medals from the Sixth World Choir Games in July 2010, Men in Blaque are seen as one of the most prestigious choir groups in the world. They are an exclusively male a capella group founded here at UC Irvine in 1996 and directed by the first American choral conductor to lead a United States choir to international fame in 1966, Professor Huzati.

Members of Men in Blaque come from various age groups and musical backgrounds. There are 18 members, ranging from 19 years of age and over. Outside of the choir, they are computer experts, dancers, business owners, clergymen and schoolteachers.

Last Saturday, Men in Blaque, along with the music groups Harmonium and Ushinotes, performed a musical program for students, music fans and staff at the Winifred Smith Hall in the Claire Trevor School of the Arts.

Harmonium, an all women’s chamber choir, was established in 2010 in Irvine. The group is under the direction of UCI alumnus and member of Men in Blaque, Kenneth Haro. Harmonium primarily consists of students, professors and alumni from the university, but remains open to the Orange County community.

The music by Harmonium consists of an eclectic repertoire providing an aesthetic musical performance throughout the ages from all around the world. The group is dedicated to providing enriching multicultural concerts during the academic school year to UCI as well as the local community.

Highlights from Harmonium include “Ave Maria” and “Crossing the Bar.” A beautiful but solemn piece that left the audience in awe, “Ave Maria,” or Hail Mary, is a traditional biblical Catholic prayer asking for the intercession of the Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus. “Crossing the Bar,” one of the few pieces from the show performed in English, was also a hit. A choral version of the Alfred Tennyson poem “Crossing the Bar” is an extended metaphor that compares death to crossing the sandbar out to the ocean of death.

“The concert went fantastic. The performers sung wonderfully and I am so proud of them,” Haro said.

Ushinotes is a coed performance group under the direction of Michael Ushino. Competition within the choir world is so intense that members are asked to become a part of Ushinotes by Ushino and there are no auditions. Ushino, also a UCI alumnus and member of Men in Blaque, is currently pursuing a master’s in choral conducting. He has been a part of Men in Blaque since his freshman year at UCI, and is grateful to have worked with Professor Huszti for so long.

“I would say I worked with Huszti for 30 hours a week when I was an undergrad,” Ushino said. “I consider him my mentor, my teacher. I hope he considers me his student because he, more than any other professor or teacher in my life, has changed my life dramatically.”

The ding dongs of György Orbán’s version of William Shakespeare’s “O Mistress Mine” grabbed the audience’s attention from the start, but it was “Leonardo Dreams of his Flying Machine” that finished Ushinotes’ performance with a bang. “Leonardo Dreams of his Flying Machine” is a piece about what it is like to dream like Leonardo de Vinci, telling the story of the artist being tortured to such a degree that his only recourse is to figure out how to fly.

“We brought the performance together incredibly well considering we had five people missing from the group that normally perform with us,” Ushino said.

“Leonardo Dreams of His Flying Machine” was also a favorite of Professor Huszti. “That piece has so many intricacies and is difficult to perform, but they did a great job tonight,” Huszti said.

Men in Blaque, dressed in all black tuxedo suits, took the stage last and were met with overwhelming recognition from the audience.

“Perhaps what makes Men in Blaque stand out from other choir groups is the variety of performances that they are famous for. They do not only sing one genre of music,” Huszti said.

The tone of their performance began somber, and then turned playful with their performance of “Sérénade D’Hiver.” Many of the singers swayed side to side in a romantic way as they serenaded the audience.

The room was silent, and all eyes were turned to Haro as he performed his solo performance “Chanson á Boire.” Chansons pour Boire is a term for a French drinking song performed after the consumption of a meal. It is usually for one voice with plucked string accompaniment, and is written with simple and syllabic settings of light humorous texts.

“This was Kenneth’s best performance yet,” Huszti said.

“Soldiers Chorus” was also a crowd pleaser and a great way to end the night as the singers began marching across the stage and involving the audience.

Men in Blaque represent some of the best qualities of an amateur a capella. They are 18 men with strong voices and an equally strong love for music.

“Being a member of Men in Blaque takes hard work, dedication and a love for music,” Huszti said. “These are all traits of the members of Men in Blaque and that shows on stage.”