Friday, August 14, 2015

SigEp Style



One of my favorite quotes from the Harry Potter books is from the scene in The Order of the Phoenix where Dumbledore is about to be seized by the Ministry of Magic and thrown in Azkaban, the wizarding prison, and he escapes by grabbing the tail of his phoenix and vanishing into thin air. One of the portraits on the wall comments, "You know, Minister, I disagree with Dumbledore on several points, but you can't deny he's got style."

After attending yesterday evening's "Balanced Man Celebration" at the Grand Ole Opry, I have to say the same about SigEp: You may disagree with them on some points, but you can't deny they've got style.

The Celebration was, in a word, slick. Not in an officious, snake-oil-salesman kind of way, but in a highly produced, cutting edge kind of way. The evening began with the roughly 1600-strong crowd gathering outside the host resort, where a marching band in full regalia was waiting to lead them down the street to the Grand Ole Opry itself.
The crowd looks sparse in this photo, but there was a huge throng right behind us!

A few of the younger brothers wrapped themselves in SigEp and chapter flags; everyone was dressed to the nines in suits and ties, the few ladies in the crowd (myself included) wearing cocktail dresses and heels. As soon as we entered the lobby of the Opry, we found the SigEp Chorus gathered on a staircase, singing traditional a cappella songs, which were piped into the auditorium itself as the crowd filtered in.


There was time to sit and take in the historic surroundings before the show started. I admired the huge venue, the rich red curtain, the warm wood of the pew-style seating, and the impressive scaffolding supporting what was obviously millions of dollars worth of high-tech sound and lighting equipment.


Amidst everything, there was a good deal of haze and fog billowing from the edges of the stage, filling the auditorium. I wondered if there had been some pyrotechnic display before we came in. But as the house lights darkened, the curtain rose, and a deep, booming voice welcomed us all to Conclave, the reason for the smoke was made clear: an impressive laser light display accompanied the disembodied voice. Beams of light in every color of the rainbow shot across the room, creating starbursts and cascades and waterfalls of color and light. The beams spun, twisted, and chased each other, converging and breaking apart again. After several minutes, the colorful beams vanished.

The music became deeper and images appeared on a large screen on the stage as a yet deeper and even more booming voice took up the narrative. Flashes of historic documents were interspersed with shots of well-dressed, enthusiastic-looking young men; glimpses of Conclaves past and their associated banners shot past, a dizzyingly fast succession of images of the men of SigEp being successful in various way. I found it a bit disconcerting, like the jump-cut images in an old black-and-white movie that are meant to show that a character is going insane or having a breakdown. I'm not sure I liked it, but it definitely had a certain style. And it definitely appealed to the up-and-coming, young graduate demographic. It was modern, it was eye-popping, it was slick.

As the final words of the video echoes through the hall, there were a few moments of hushed anticipation, and then we heard the distant sound of bagpipes droning.From the rear of the auditorium, still in near-complete darkness, a bagpipe band in kilts, sporrans, and everything in between proceeded down the aisles, the drummers bringing up the rear, spinning their drumsticks in the shadows.

When their last note had faded away, the lights were raised just the slightest bit and the procession of flags began: flagbearers bearing the official state flag of all fifty United States marched down the aisle, swinging their flags in giant figure eights, ascending the stairs onto the stage, and crossing each other to place each flag prominently in a rack on either side of the front of the stage.

The flag display from the 2009 Conclave.

When the state flags had all been placed, another procession of SigEp flags, each bearing a single Greek letter (as used to denote each chapter's order of founding within their state), from alpha to omega, finally culminating in a large SigEp flag edged in gold fringe, which was brought to the stage to the sound of loud clapping and cheering.

It was an impressive introduction to the evening's program, and whatever you may think about the message SigEp was trying to bring across, you have to admit that they were bringing it across with style. And that's not a bad thing. Style catches people's eyes. Style calls attention to itself. Style proclaims that it has it all together. Style implies success. So showing that you've got style really isn't a bad way at all to declare yourself competent, contemporary, and relevant.

SigEp: They've got style.