In 2004, After Hours was a very different group. There were five of us for starters. At that time the leads were distributed fairly evenly throughout the group except for one person, Yee Kuang, our current tenor.
It wasn't that we were punishing him or that he couldn't sing leads, it's that he chose to NOT sing many leads. He had a few scattered throughout the years from 2002 to 2004, "The Lady In Red" by Chris DeBurgh and "Sukiyaki", arrangement based on 4pm's version. Also "Earth Angel" by The Penguins, "We Wish You A Merry Christmas" and "Love Me Tender" by Elvis Presley.
But that was about it, he mostly preferred singing backing harmony and staying out of the main spotlight, where Mike Santos, George Scott, Ian Corby and myself all battled for attention. In fact, I think aside from Love Me Tender which he picked himself, all of his other leads were forced upon him.
All of our concerts at that time took place at Grace Church On-The-Hill. We had no mics so we used the amazing acoustics of the church to amplify and echo our sound. Our first concert was a very nervous affair in 2002. The response was warm and encouraging so we did a Christmas concert later that same year which was a much more solid performance than our first concert.
However, in 2003, we jumped the shark so to speak. Everything we could do wrong, we did and our "Mostly Oldies" show was the least attended and the most hard to watch now, going back. It actually felt we had taken a step backwards.
So when we planned our 2004 show, we kept the formula of our 2002 Christmas show, our second show as we really wanted to make up for the previous show in 2003. The program was half Christmas music. Many of the Christmas songs were repeats from that second show but nearly all of the secular music were brand new tunes, including one serious trump card.
I have always been a fan of the Lion King movie, including some of the music. A few months after they released the soundtrack on CD, a follow up album came out, which was called "Rhythm Of The Pride Lands", a collection of music inspired by The Lion King soundtrack. The opening track was one I'd listen to on repeat all the time and it was called "He Lives In You". The song did not appear in the movie and unless you had bought this CD, it's unlikely you would even know of its existence as it was never released as a single. The only single from the album was an alternative version of "Hakuna Matata" which barely made its way onto the radio waves in Toronto.
Yee Kuang and I were roommates at the time and one day after re-discovering the song again, I suggested that I could hear his voice on the lead for the song if After Hours tried it a cappella. Yee Kuang's initial response was that it would be too hard but liked the song enough. I played the song for the guys and they agreed it sounded pretty difficult but we could give it a try. It's important to note here that back then our method of learning songs was by ear or "woodshedding" for those familiar with the term. Nothing but lyrics and the key were ever written down as none of us had any knowledge on how to properly score an arrangement, or read music very well for that matter. Obviously no longer the approach we take now.
One wintery cold day I asked the guys to meet at my work for rehearsal. We were always looking for echoey places to rehearse and we wanted to spend an entire rehearsal to see if we could get this one song. So we ended up learning "He Lives In You" in the parking garage of my work. We'd have to stop every once in a while to let cars pass us by. However, the song came quite naturally to us and kind of fell into place rather quickly, which kind of surprised all of us. Ian took the bass, George and Mike invented interesting tenor harmonies and spoken bits, I handled all the in between stuff in the lower register somewhere between Ian and the tenor parts and Yee Kuang took the lead.
We continued to rehearse the song over and over and quickly knew that this song was simply a cut above the rest of our material. It was decided that the song would be the final encore of the evening, following a haunting arrangement of "Silent Night". We also added some dramatic effects by turning out the lights of the church and only lighting ourselves with individual candles for both of these songs. While very effective, we were lucky none of the candles blew out while we sang and unfortunately, due to the poor lighting, only the audio was picked up by the video camera so there are no actual images of that first performance, only the memories from those who were there.
I think because we KNEW we had this amazing song to hit the crowd with at the end of the night, our overall confidence was much higher throughout the show. We sounded better than we ever had. Nerves were no longer an issue and we had a lot of fun, which showed. We also put more effort into our look and did a costume change at intermission. We also added a Hula Hoop contest to the show as well as a number with guitarist Brian Graham which we had never done before. People popped big for that song, "Hotel California" and probably assumed that nothing would top our number with Brian.
With the lights out, candles lit, we lulled the audience into a very quiet space with "Silent Night" and then we hit them with "He Lives In You". And we sang the shit out of it. The harmonies, the power, since you can't actually see how many people are on stage, you lose track of how many voices there were. One person who had heard the audio only told me he had assumed we were a chorus of at least 12 people, which is one of the highest compliments an a cappella group can get. That song, with those voices in that church produced a magical moment in After Hours that I'd argue has yet to be repeated. People literally screamed at the end of the song and the applause lasted minutes. When the lights came on, all that was left on the stage were five smoking candles, finishing the effect.
When we walked out of the back to greet our guests, people ran up to me crying and told me how much they loved the song and wanted desperately to know what it was. Many ran home and searched for the song, only to be disappointed that it was nothing like our version.
For the first time in four shows, the after-show crowd was biggest around Yee Kuang. People couldn't wait to shake his hand or hug him. Because of one song, he went from the 5th wheel in After Hours, to the voice behind our best tune.
Our next show would be our 5th anniversary, which we performed a little late, in Feb of 2006. "He Lives In You" again was the highlight of the show but this time we performed it at the end of the first act to make sure we had a solid and well lit recording of the song before anyone's voice got tired. It was kind of a selfish move as the song really should have finished the show again but we really wanted a good recording of it, which we did get.
Much like 2002, we performed another Christmas concert later that same year, in November of 2006. Without getting into too much detail, we weren't at our best. There was a lot of tension in the group and we did not feel ready for this show. I'm sure to most, no one really noticed. For us, it was a big discombobulated mess. However, once again "He Lives In You" was the closer of the night, with the lights on which again, was about making sure the camera would pick up the video as well as the audio. Watching that performance now, we look tired, but we nailed the arrangement and the applause once again, was the strongest of the evening.
We also recorded a CD in 2006 and put the song on there as the last track. Not a bad recording but it's never the same as singing live at Grace Church.
Our next show wouldn't happen again until September of 2008. We were actually pretty busy with live gigs in 2007, performing "He Lives In You" for people all over the place. However, something bittersweet happened in 2008. We saved "He Lives In You" once again as the last song of the night AND we went back to turning off the lights and doing the candle thing. When the song was over, the applause was hearty but not much different than the rest of the songs we had sung all evening. We felt it was probably the best we had ever sung it, you can see that performance here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DXCda_Vx8JE
As I mentioned, the reason the applause wasn't as crazy as before was bittersweet. People had no issues with the song and still enjoyed it. What had happened though, was that we had improved the arrangements of all of our other songs so much that "He Lives In You" no longer stood out as this amazing one-off. It was now on par with the other songs in our list. Great news for us, bad news for "He Lives In You". We decided then and there, that we would not perform the song again, that it had run its course. It was also the last time After Hours would set foot inside Grace Church On-The-Hill.
Within the next few months, both Mike Santos and Ian Corby left After Hours. Mike was replaced by Luke Hobbs and we became a quartet. We had learned about 300 songs at that point and we had to basically start over as we were now four instead of five, leaving all of our previous arrangements more or less useless. 2009 was a year of learning to be a quartet and we planned our next show for 2010. Yee Kuang, George and myself had no intentions of performing "He Lives In You". Luke however made it clear that it was very important to him that he get to sing that song with us at least once at a show.
So we did two back to back shows (Friday and Saturday nights) on mics for the first time at our new theatre of choice, the Winchester Street theatre. As the final encore, we performed "He Lives In You" on both nights. Fancy lighting, a Tibetan singing bowl to start the song, the works. The applause was mild and polite.
I had learned then that while Yee Kuang's lead was the centrepiece of the song, it was actually Mike's voice that provided most of the song's power. I had moved into Ian's old bass part so my part was more or less combined with Mike's which Luke performed. It was also the first time the song was scored and written down. The magic, simply wasn't there.
That show was George's last and then he was replaced and then the song was shelved.
Five years later, in 2015, After Hours celebrated it's 15th anniversary with a very special show, bringing back former members, including Mike Santos. We thought with three of the five original voices and performing the song as a quintet like we used to, MAYBE we could get that magic back. Once again we performed the song as the closer with lights out and candles and the applause was nearly non-existent. It was just another song and in hindsight, a poor choice to end the night with. We learned that night that it wasn't just Yee Kuang and Mike who are essential to the magic of that song, it was Ian's bass and George's tenor as well.
We recently sent out a survey to a random focus group of people to get feedback as we prepare for our next show this coming Spring. Many people are still talking about "He Lives In You" as a song they'd like to hear. While in After Hours we never say never, it is very unlikely, out of respect to the magic that was once there and the guys who sang it, that we will ever perform "He Lives In You" again.
But, you never know...