I am a member of my school’s most advanced choir: it’s called “Premieres” and it’s a combination of a traditional choir and a show choir. The classic choir is just what it sounds like, a standard high-caliber choir singing regular choral music. A show choir, on the other hand, is where the entire group dances in sync while singing (generally) pop tunes. Typical show choirs compete against each other to be the top-ranked performers of a ten-minute song-and-dance routine. To perform at this level, most show choir members focus on show choir more than any other activities, committing to practicing their routines all year long during and after school. The choir at my school, however, because of its dual classic and show choir nature, among other reasons, does not compete with other show choirs. Instead, we perform our routines for our parents and friends in the more casual setting of special showcase events. But for real, full-time show choir members, the art form gets competitive. So competitive in fact, that sometimes things get a little out of hand. If you need some imagery, picture the film “Pitch Perfect”, but with high school students. To explain what I mean, here are a few of my favorite crazy competitive show choir stories culled from various sources that I believe represent the genre…
The Fairfield (Ohio) Choraliers, one of the most competitive and successful show choirs in the tri-state region, breathed new life into a common phrase in the show choir world: “There is no crying in show choir.” Being a member of the Choraliers “often came with “smeared makeup, frantic costume changes, and a stew of hopes and dreams ready to be realized (or crushed).” So, as you might expect, drama flowed intensely. But the most interesting part of the Choraliers case study (to me at least), is the fact that less than 10 years ago, Mr. Jeff Clark, the director of my current pseudo-show choir, was their director! Luckily, he didn’t bring all the drama with him, but he certainly kept the intensity. To illustrate the grit required to be a part of the Choraliers, let me recount what happened one year a day before the grand finals. As the group was boarding the buses to leave for a competition, they found out that one of their members had been suspended from school and wasn’t allowed to join them. So, they had to entirely rework their formations the day before they competed for a national championship. When the students had gathered, Clark announced that they would be rehearsing at midnight. And, in a matter-of-fact tone, he set the stakes. “I’ll be honest with you, this is going to make or break your show tomorrow,” he says. Clark maintains an extremely high standard for the students. They go through each song, shifting dancers to restore symmetry. “This is not your fault,” the choreographer tells them, “but it is your problem.” This variation of “quitting is not an option” competitiveness is not out of the ordinary– it is the standard for show choirs.
Not only do the students get swept up in the competitive nature of the activity, but the parents of the show choir members can also sometimes get just as fierce. Maybe not quite to the extent as presented in the TV Series “Dance Moms”, but they certainly can cause a scene. In a story about a competition in Iowa in 2012, two dads from competing groups got into an argument about their students’ performances, which devolved into a full-fledged fight. While this certainly sounds like a crazy experience, the scariest part of the incident was when they began using props from one group's act as weaponry!
This competitive nature emanating from directors, parents, and other show choir members can lead to some very tense moments in the show choir world. In another story, the director at Marion High School in Iowa recalled one of these dramatic moments from the first show choir he directed. His nervous group was introduced and started performing. “I saw our host approaching me from the corner of my eye. He walked up to me and whispered, ‘Uh, none of the judges are here, so nobody's scoring your show.’ He stopped the music, and tearful young ladies looked at him, frightened that they’d done something wrong and forfeited their chance to win the competition. Some tears were shed in disbelief, but thankfully, the issue was the judges, not the performers. After assuring the members it was not their fault, they had a good laugh and reset to start the show again.
I hope that these snippets of stories provide a bit of insight into the world of competitive show choir. I am certainly glad that our school’s show choir is not nearly as merciless. But maybe, one day, Mr. Clark will get back to his roots, and we will become an authentic show choir once and for all.