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  • Mike Moore | The Journal Gazette Choral director Christy Maloney directs the Bishop Dwenger mixed show choir, Summit Sound, as they practice their show routine about an immigrant family's journey after arriving at Ellis Island in 1910.

  • Mike Moore | The Journal Gazette The student band performs during rehearsal for Bishop Dwenger’s show choir competition.

  • Rachel Von | The Journal Gazette Members of Northrop High School’s show choir, Charisma, performs in the Bishop Luers Midwest Show Choir Invitational on March 2.

  • Rachel Von | The Journal Gazette Savanah Gonzalez of Northrop’s Charisma performs in one of the many costumes show choirs often incorporate into routines.

  • Mike Moore | The Journal Gazette Summit Sound, Dwenger’s mixed show choir, practices two nights each week for up to six hours total.

  • Rachel Von | The Journal Gazette There are 54 boys and girls in Northrop’s Charisma choir, and 62 members of the all-girl Allure.

  • Mike Moore | The Journal Gazette Students of the Bishop Dwenger mixed show choir, Summit Sound, practice their show routine for competition at Bishop Dwenger High School on Thursday 2.28.19.  

  • Mike Moore | The Journal Gazette Students of the Bishop Dwenger mixed show choir, Summit Sound, practice their show routine for competition at Bishop Dwenger High School on Thursday 2.28.19.  

  • Mike Moore | The Journal Gazette Students of the Bishop Dwenger mixed show choir, Summit Sound, practice their show routine for competition at Bishop Dwenger High School on Thursday 2.28.19.  

  • Mike Moore | The Journal Gazette Students of the Bishop Dwenger mixed show choir, Summit Sound, practice their show routine for competition at Bishop Dwenger High School on Thursday 2.28.19.  

  • Mike Moore | The Journal Gazette Students of the Bishop Dwenger mixed show choir, Summit Sound, practice their show routine for competition at Bishop Dwenger High School on Thursday 2.28.19.  

Sunday, March 24, 2019 1:00 am

The shows must go on

Competition time brings out best from choirs

TERRI RICHARDSON | The Journal Gazette

It's 3:30 p.m. on a Thursday and school has just let out at Bishop Dwenger High.

And while classes may be done for the day, there's still more work to do for members of Summit Sound and Elegance.

It's two days before competition and the show choirs are practicing and tweaking their routines that will be judged at the Bishop Luers show choir invitational.

“That sounds a little meh, huh?” show choir director Christy Maloney says during Summit Sound's opening ballad. “Start again.”

All the hours of practice, choreography and preparing props come down to this – a little more than two months of competitions boiled down to a 15- to 20-minute routine in the hopes of placing to have a chance at trophies or even state competition.

“Your voices are sounding a little thin,” Maloney instructs. “You need to focus on the melody.”

They try it again. The students get back into position, many sitting with flags, baskets of apples and other items. The theme for Summit Sound, a choir composed of boys and girls, follows an immigrant family from Ellis Island in 1910 and their dramatic story of coming to America. Every student has their own place, moving and gliding between one another in a somewhat organized chaos in the choir room's tight space.

It's definitely not anything like the TV show “Glee,” all wrapped up into a hourlong episode. No, this performance all starts way back on the first day of school in August when students spend their after school hours getting ready to hit the stage.

Actually, the show choir directors draw a blank when they are asked how many hours they estimate is put into getting ready for a show choir performance.

For the 75 to 80 students at Bishop Dwenger, they practice two nights a week, five to six hours. Of course that increases on the weekends during choreography week, when the students must learn the entire routine in two days.

The school's show choir is an extracurricular activity, so that means everything has to be done after school or on the weekends.

But it ended on March 16, Dwenger's final competition for the season. That is until discussions start for what show will be done for next year.

“Each year is a brand new show,” Maloney says. “We're already working on next year's show. You have to think about the kind of kids you have, the music to put together. It's a big process.”

It's a process that takes so much work that not many realize all that is involved from inception to competition.

Pulling out all stops

Northrop High School's show choirs – Charisma, a mixed choir, and Allure, an all-female choir – have two different shows during the year. There is the fall show and then the competition show. The fall performance starts right away in August, and some times during the summer, and the students perform through October or November, director Tom Maupin says. Then in late October, the choirs begin preparing for competition. That's where all the money goes, Maupin says. There are props, costumes, choreography, backdrops and copyrights.

“People don't understand the expense of it,” Maupin says. He says he tries to keep it as affordable as possible. The students pay for their costuming, then the choirs do fundraisers for the rest.

It takes $4,000 to $5,000 a year for copyright fees, Maupin says. Then there are all the little hidden costs that people don't know about.

Maupin confesses to constantly looking for things he can use in his performances. “You'll see something and you think, how can I use that in a show?” he says, laughing. “One-hundred-and-fifty yo-yos on clearance. How can I use this in a show?”

And then there's all the time and all the people that it takes to make a performance happen. There are the students, the directors, choreographers, backup band, the behind-the-scenes crew, those who help with the sets, costume makers.

“You're putting together a whole musical in a 15-minute to 20-minute package,” Maupin says. “(It) takes a lot of people.”

Often times Maupin is at school until about 8 or 9 p.m. rehearsing with the students. That's in addition to the time students spend in class. They meet every day for about an hour. Maupin, who is also the department chair as well as vocal music director and handles the musical theater and other classes, says he tries to be mindful that some students have to work so he leaves days open so they can go to their jobs.

“It's a ton of time but none of us show choir (directors) would do it unless we loved it,” he says. “It's nights and weekends.”

Which doesn't leave much family time. But for Maupin, who's been doing this for 30 years, it's sort of become a family business. His wife is a music teacher, as well as his son. In addition, all that are involved in the show choir have become a family. “All these parents, we become close to them and the kids,” he says.

This is Maloney's fifth year as the show choirs' director. For their performance this year, Summit Sound will have at least one costume change, as well as backdrops, lights, props and a student band that provides all their music. There is also the crew that helps keep everything operating smoothly.

To help pay for it all the students do a lot of fundraising as well as pay a fee to be in show choir. The school also hosts its own show choir invitational, which helps with money, Maloney says.

All-out effort

There are 54 students in Northrop's Charisma and 62 girls in Allure. Maupin says that show choir continues to get bigger. When they have auditions in April, he is expecting 150 students to audition, he says.

They have so many students that he is planning to add a third show choir, a junior varsity group.

He says each year when he meets with his team in May to plan for next year, they talk about how they can top this year and do something new. “Something that the kids and judges like,” Maupin says. That's because the backdrops keep getting bigger and the costumes keep getting bigger every competition, Maupin says.

Curtis Shaw, choral and drama director at Homestead High School, says every show choir is different. There are those that put on mini musicals and then there are those who have different themed shows. “And then you have us,” he laughs, adding that his choirs of 46 young women in the group Elite and 49 students in the mixed group, Class Royale, as well as 17 in the backup band, have a very loose theme of going into the city for a night on the town. “We just sing, dance and do big energy songs,” he says. “It's just a fun and entertaining show.”

Shaw says the choirs' backdrops are “pretty intense” and include about 100 different light cues as well as fog machines. He likens it to something one might see at a rock concert.

To help with getting things off and on the stage, he has a crew of dads and moms, lovingly referred to as the Wingnuts. “They are proud to have that name,” says Shaw, adding they have the name on T-shirts.

Shaw says the parents practice getting the props and backdrops off and on the stage. During the competition, the choirs have only about 31/2 minutes to set up and tear down before and after a performance.

“It's just as choreographed back there as it is with the dancing,” Shaw says.

When students audition, they know what they are getting into – the time that will be involved, Maupin says.

This is Joseph Fisher's first year with the Bishop Dwenger Summit Sound. The junior says he performed in musicals and plays throughout grade school but didn't know that show choir was a thing until his freshman year at school. He says the hardest part is the long hours, especially learning all the choreography in one weekend, which made for six- to nine-hour days.

“You don't have a Saturday,” Fisher says with a laugh.

It's also hard to balance not only social life but also school work. “Some times it is difficult to find time to do homework,” Fisher says.

“It does take up a lot of our life,” says Faith Didier, a junior who auditioned for Summit Sound her sophomore year. 

And although there's a lot of investment to get ready for competition, both say that it is hard to see it end.

Didier says it's bittersweet because while it's nice to have her nights open, “It sucks to see it end,” she says.

Shaw says he tells his students that no professional dancer or singer does “what we ask the kids do.” “They have no sound check or anything and we expect them to sing and dance their hearts out and look good.”

Crunch time

It's March 2 and it's competition day at the Bishop Luers Midwest Show Choir Invitational at Bishop Luers High School. 

The Northrop Charisma is scheduled to take the stage at 3:30 p.m. but they have just arrived about a half hour before, coming from an earlier competition at East Noble High School. Time was so tight that none of the students changed from their costumes, instead wearing them on the bus back to Fort Wayne.

The students are excited as they stand in the hallway, chatting and practicing dance moves. There's no time to head to the warmup room, only to line up and move toward the stage entrance.

This was the 45th year for the Luers competition, the longest running show choir invitational in the area. This year there were 16 choirs from 15 schools, according to Monica Zwick, the invitational director.

“Take a breath,” Maupin tells the students, “we've got time. You're already warmed up. You've already had one awesome performance.”

In addition to Northrop, Bishop Dwenger's Summit Sound will also perform on this day, shortly after Charisma finishes.

Maupin walks up and down the line of students, making sure that everyone is in the right place. 

“If I'm calm, you should be calm,” he says, “If I'm nervous, the Titanic is going down.”

The students laugh at Maupin's attempt to relieve the tension.

As the students wait to take the stage, the Dwenger Summit Sound choir comes down the stairs dressed in their costumes. The Northrop students clap and cheer as they pass by.

The crowd also claps and cheers as it awaits the Northrop choir to perform. The packed auditorium resembles that of a sports arena as the crowd chants “Thomas Maupin, Thomas Maupin” and “Charisma, Charisma” while waiting for the backdrops and props to be set up.

And then the music begins.

Three jacket switches and one costume change later, the choir's city kids on the farm routine is finished.

Maupin reports that on that day of double competition, the choir won grand champions at the East Noble competition and fourth runner-up at Bishop Luers.

For Bishop Dwenger, the all-girls choir Elegance got second in the unisex division and Summit Sound won first place in Class B and third place overall.

And while all the show choirs are competing to try and win trophies, Maupin, along with the other directors, says he is working to make adults and good citizens. He says show choir teaches the students time management, leadership, how to be a part of the team, giving and taking and compromise. 

“Everybody thinks I'm nuts,” Maupin says of his hours of investment in show choir. “You gotta love it or you wouldn't do it. (I have) great kids and parents, administration is supportive of arts.

“I've got one of the greatest jobs in the world.”