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I would like to start a show choir at my middle school and high school.  I don't know how to start one and where to get the music for it.  Could you help me?
Thank you!
on December 27, 2009 9:21am
Oh! My!! Goodness!!!
I'd love to help you, but where to begin?!! I directed an excellent show ensemble for 14 years at this school, a good women's show ensemble for several years at Indiana University, The All American College Singers shows for two summer seasons in the Disney parks, and put in a 20-year apprenticeship before all that as a professional touring entertainer and arranger with The Four Saints.
The problem is that terms and concepts change over the years, and what would have been recognized as a "Show Choir" 30 years ago is entirely different from what it seems to mean today, which is MUCH too often a female-only dance group using prerecorded accompaniment tracks and musical arrangements that are much too often plain vanilla and formulaic, lacking creativity. (Sorry publishers, but I calls 'em as I sees 'em--or hears 'em!) Oh, and I've never used the term "Show Choir" for ANY of my ensembles, since it has been degraded in too many cases by high school ensembles with less than professional standards.
There used to be clear distinctions between Swing Choir (the sort of thing that the Disney shows put on using singer/dancers), Show Choir (often concentrating on music from Broadway shows and even doing 'scenes'), and Vocal Jazz ensemble (usually all singing and little movement), and each has had its own hard-core advocates, although all are legitimate expressions of popular culture. But even those clear lines have become blurred.
And here's the problem as I see it. Any ensemble reflects its conductor and his or her background, experience, professional knowledge, and awareness (or lack of awareness) of professional standards in the entertainment industry in general. And too many college programs turn out music educators--and in some cases very fine and competent music educators--with absolutely no experience or background in the popular entertainment side of the music business. And that's just the way it is.
So, before you even decide to get started, here are just a few of the factors that I would suggest you have to think about:
1. Auditions: what are you actually looking for, and will you know when you find it?
2. Gender: just girls, just boys, or both? And if you're thinking single-gender, can you justify it to your administrators?
3. Just singers? Singer-dancers? Specialist singers and dancers?
4. Movement: blocking? Unison movment? Choreography? Actual dance?
5. Body types? Will you discrimiate? CAN you discriminate?
6. Attitude and commitment: how to ascertain?
7. Choreographer/Stage Director: You? Students? Hired professional?
8. Accompaniment: Piano? Rhythm section? Added horn section? Prerecorded tracks?
9. Arrangements: Can you arrange? Are you stuck with commercial arrangements that have to fit a lowest common denominator?
10. Audio needs: Funding? Purchasing? Determining minimum needs? Storage and transport? Setup and teardown? Audio Techs to operate?
11. Lighting needs: Same factors, if you even want to get involved in this.
12. Costuming/Wardrobe: Uniform or mixed? Funding? Design? Construction?
13. Entertainment Expertise and Standards: The most important factor, and often the least understood.
Obviously I'm not going to tell you to forget what you want to do, because I've done it successfully at several different levels and I know it can be done. I fully embrace the value of the cultural heritage of our music from past times and the need to keep that music alive and vital, but I'm also fully committed to the music of today and to the need to teach students the basics of functioning within the existing music industry while they are young enough to be protected from the worst of the sex, drugs, and booze culture that they will run into outside the protective walls of our schools. As educators we have an obligation to prepare students for the so-called Real World, and our real product is not singers or entertainers but educated, knowledgeable and thinking adults whose taste can discriminate between junk culture and valid art.
Here endeth the lecture!
All the best,
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