One of the most memorable experiences of my life was a time in my early 20’s when I was working as an audio technician with my friend Pete. We were the sound engineers for an NCAA gymnastics semi-finals tournament at Crisler Arena in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Thousands of people filled the arena, began to take their seats and get settled in. The chatter and commotion was unbelievable and echoed loudly throughout the venue. We had spent the previous hour or so running audio cables, carefully placing speakers and testing volume levels of our equipment. The teams would be depending on us to play music for their various routines, so we wanted everything to be perfect.
Overhead, a deep voice came through the house speaker system and asked the crowd to take their seats so we could get started.
It was time to kick off the event by singing the Star Spangled Banner. A local University of Michigan a cappella group called the Dicks & Janes, a group of about 12 singers, approached the center of the arena as the house lights began to dim. It was right around that moment that we realized we hadn’t brought a microphone stand for the singers. Whoops.
Pete informed me that I was going to have to hold it for them myself. Yikes.
With microphone in hand, I walked to the center of the arena where I was met by the group. The house lights lowered to a blinding black and the entire arena silenced — I mean, it was pin-drop, eerily silent. The singers formed a semicircle around me, and were illuminated by the lone light source in the arena, a single beam of light coming down from the rafters.
I got down on one knee like I was about to propose to all twelve of them, bowed my head, and extended my microphone-donned hand as high as I could.
Unphased, they began singing. Quietly at first, then crescendoing to a blend of moving harmonies I simply cannot describe in text.
To be fair, it’s already an a cappella nerd’s dream to be standing in the middle of a group while they’re singing. It’s like a real life version of Dolby Digital™ epic surround sound. This though, was different.
The vast darkness, their voices piercing the complete silence, and the natural reverb of the Crisler arena was like nothing I had ever heard. It was peaceful, powerful, and harmonic. I felt every note resonate through me as it filled the darkest corners of space.
As they finished, there was a brief moment of silence before earth-shattering cheers rang out from the stands. It was absolutely surreal and a feeling that I remember well to this day.
If we hadn’t forgotten the microphone stand, I’m sure I would have still enjoyed the performance, but it definitely wouldn’t have been the same nor nearly as impactful.