Highland News Leader

First-year teachers sing the praises of new Highland High School show choir

Learn about the newest choral program at Highland High School

The Highland High School Choral Director Andrew Gibb-Clark explains how the schools and its students are pursuing a competitive show choir.
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The Highland High School Choral Director Andrew Gibb-Clark explains how the schools and its students are pursuing a competitive show choir.

Two first-year music teachers are tuning about 50 students into the first-ever competition show choir in the Highland School District.

Recently, music teachers at Highland High School began receiving requests from students to discontinue the school's jazz choir and replace it with a show choir.

"I had about 30 students show up in my office one day," said Andrew Gibb-Clark, the choral director at the high school and Highland Middle School.

Gibb-Clark referred to show choir as the "marching-band of choirs." He said show choir performances usually meld singing, dance and theatrics into one final project, similar to the show "Glee."

In many cases, Gibb-Clark said show choir is competitive. The program will begin in August and last all year.

Jewell, who participated with show choir at McKendree University, said competition season usually runs from January to March. During this time, the choir would travel to other schools to compete, which is part of the reason why the teachers said students are drawn to it.

"It opens up a bigger opportunity for us," said Dale Miller, a Highland sophomore.

Heather Kim, a junior, agreed.

"It's kind of cool that we are the first students at Highland High School that are able to experience a show choir, and hopefully, it becomes a tradition that, like, leads on to other kids," Kim said.

Gibb-Clark teaches all choral-related activities for sixth through 12th grade.

Jewell, whose position is formally know as assistant high school band director, teaches marching band and concert band at HHS, as well as music for kindergarten through fifth grade at Alhambra Primary School and Grantfork Elementary School. Jewell also teaches beginning band at Grantfork. But regardless of their already full plate, the new teachers decided to step up to the challenge.

The teachers held auditions for the choir, and about 55 students came to showcase their skills. Gibb-Clark said that because the program will not compete this year, they accepted almost every student who was prepared with an audition. About 50 students participate now.

"We would have increased the program by 28 percent this year," Jewell said.

Out of those students, Jewell said about eight to 11 of them had not been in choir before.

"It’s a nice opportunity to be involved still but not having to take it as a class," Miller said.

The choir will have its first performance at the end of the HHS Cabaret on April 20.

However, getting the program started will take a lot of work, according to the teachers, and it will come at a cost.

What is needed?

Last month, Gibb-Clark and Jewell addressed the Highland School Board to go over what the program would need to be competitive.

"Honestly, it depends on how fast and how competitive we want the show choir to get, and how quickly," Gibb-Clark said.

Gibb-Clark estimated that it would take about two to three years for the choir to get off the ground. During that time, Gibb-Clark said the program would need to find about $60,000 to purchase equipment.

Out of that cost, Gibb-Clark said the most urgent need would be a set of show choir risers, which would cost about $14,000.

For show choir performances, Gibb-Clark said special 4 by 8 foot platforms are used. He said the risers help the kids to safely dance, and allow the students to be seen on multiple levels. He also said that most competitions use these risers, so practicing without them would be a disadvantage.

Currently, the district shares one pair of risers, which gets moved from school to school, according to Gibb-Clark. He said, if the program acquires the new risers, they can be used for many different things, such as Madrigal and band performances. The risers could also be used between the high school and the middle school, so the older risers, which he said have received wear and tear, can travel less.

Since competitive show choir requires background music be played by a live band, Jewell said other costs for the choir would include purchasing musical arrangements and a soundboard. On average, Jewell said these pieces can cost $3,000 to $5,000 a piece.

Other costs would include costumers, microphones and lights. But right now, the teachers are doing what they can to cut cost.

Other avenues

This year, Jewell has utilized his two years of arranging and composition experience to create pieces for the students to sing. Next year, he hopes to get more band students involved to help make the music.

Gibb-Clark has also acquired a closet full of costumes from an Iowa school. Through some friends, he was able to buy the costumes for $100, using choir program funds.

In the long term, the teachers hope to look for fund-raising opportunities. They also said their end goal is for the school to host its own show choir competitions, which could help the program to pay for itself.

Auditions for next year's show choir will be in May. All students in eighth through 11th grade are encouraged to audition.

As for now, Jewell said the program will keep working to make its next rehearsal better than the last.

"We're just finding different avenues for kids to fall in love with music. That’s really what we are doing this for," Jewell said.