The word ‘tradition’ evokes many images and emotions; nostalgia and fond memories across continents and cultures. One indisputable traditional staple of any culture, however, is music — songs especially.
In 1988, the Savannah Onstage International Arts Festival was born as a movement by community leaders not only to promote traditional Southern tunes and ballads, but also to integrate and stir interest in many genres and musicians thereof. In 2002, it was officially renamed the Savannah Music Festival. During the original event’s fourth year, a particular contest of vocal talent emerged: the American Traditions Competition. In 2011, the ATC became an independent entity of musical recognition, focusing on, as Board President and Landings resident, Susan Kleine, puts it, “the magic of hearing classic American music.”
Kleine goes on to explain, “Five nationally recognized judges select finalists for each advancing round. Our judges have experienced enormous successes in their careers and are selected from varying musical backgrounds. This diversity of perspective allows each singer to be judged against each other while performing a varied program. Since becoming independent, some of our judges have included Sherill Milnes, Denyce Graves, Anita Gillette, Craig Schulman, Bob Dorough, Amanda McBroom, and Rod Gilfry. During competition week the judges present a concert, give a master class for selected Quarter finalists and meet with contestants to discuss their performances and give feedback. All have commented that they really didn’t expect the incredible caliber of talent we have attracted to our stages.”
The 2014 judges’ roster includes: Tenor and HBO star Anthony Laciura, Broadway Actor/Composer/Lyricist and Producer Martin Charnin, Songwriter and Musician J. Fred Knobloch, Operatic Baritone Rod Gilfry and Broadway Conductor and Musical Director Kristen Blodgette. Three of these judges will perform at a spectacular Judges’ Concert at 8pm on Thursday February 27th Savannah Theatre (Rod Gilfry, J. Fred Knobloch & Anthony Laciura).
This year The American Traditions Competition (ATC) announces exciting new initiatives as it celebrates 21 years of the best of classic American music with 28 individual vocalists competing this February for the Courtney Knight Gaines Foundation Gold Medal Award worth $12,000, representing over 25% of the total prize fund of $40,000. The 2014 quarterfinal rounds begin on Monday February 24th and February 25th at the new venue of Skidaway Island United Methodist Church at 2 PM and 5 PM. The semifinals are on Wednesday, February 26th at the Historic Savannah Theatre at 5PM and 8PM; the judges’ concert will be there also on Thursday, February 27th at 8PM It all comes down to the wire with the five Finalists on February 28th at 8PM.
Even those who don’t quite make it to the final round will come away with a better sense of self and expression. And if their voices and scores have touched even one person sitting and listening, then all is not for naught. Sometimes the smallest things can have the greatest impact. We never know just what may or will inspire us — give us realization toward our current path or shine light on a new one. Or a little bit of both. Or simple move us to reflect, to introspect, to better understand ourselves, our community, and the world at large. The Friends of Johnny Mercer, Inc. will be working with the ATC in community outreach programs in Chatham County high schools and community colleges. The Johnny Mercer Award is given in conjunction with The Friends of Johnny Mercer, Inc. and Armstrong Atlantic State University.
There is also the People’s Choice Award and $500 for two contestants that become audience favorites; and in 2014 there will be the new Ben Tucker Jazz Award in honor of the eponymous former board member who, Kleine says, “has been a great ambassador of music for Savannah and a wonderful supporter of the ATC. The ATC’s efforts are community-rooted. It is not only a sight and sound to behold for those on the stages, but for those holding the nightly program pages. Its audiences are not only inspirations and motivations, but much-appreciated supporters. The ATC would not exist without the help of fellow music lovers in the great Peach State and beyond.
America is often referred to as a “melting pot”. Much like a concert piece, there are so many elements — people, places, things, histories — that meld into the nation we know today. The American Traditions Competition reflects that, with voices, instruments, breaths, and notes from across town and across the country converging to a harmonious spectacle of sound right here in Savannah, Georgia, USA.
Tickets for this momentous event in future music history are available currently through the ATC website – www.americantraditionscompetition.com – or the ATC page of the Historic Savannah Theatre website – http:// www.savannahtheatre.com/ american-traditions-competition. Tickets can also be ordered via phone or in person from The Savannah Theatre Box Office.