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HERE COMES THE SHOW CHOIR

NOTES DA CAPO - By Clifford Brown
January, 1986

Choral music - and instrumental music, too - was an extracurricular activity in most West Virginia high schools until the 1930s. There were few choral teachers except in the more affluent independent school districts of that time. As music gradually became a part of the high school schedule in the 1930s and 1940s, choral music was included as an elective subject, particularly in the larger high schools.

The choral literature, used in these early years was predominantly sacred. As popular music became more available through radio, sound movies, and recordings, the staid image of traditional choral literature was challenged. Just as the instrumental music students wanted to play jazz, the choral students wanted to sing popular music.

Respected composers of that time such as Jerome Kem, Sigmund Romberg, and George Gershwin were creating sentimental ballads that were attractive and appropriate - both in lyrics and music - for school study and performance. About this time Gene Austen and Rudy Vallee were introducing a vocal style known as "crooning" that has persisted for more than five decades. ater crooners such as Bing Crosby and Perry Como not only elevated their singing style to its highest level but also achieved public acclairn through their personal life styles. The advent of the big band era also contributed to the popularity and acceptance of the new musical fashions.

In most instances the show choir was initiated by giving interested students the opportunity to sing in a select group. When they performed the immediate positive response gradually justified adding this group as an integral part of the choral program. The show choir of today is a production within itself, utilizing sophisticated lighting attractive costumes, choreography, an instrumental combo, and electric and electronic instruments ad infinitum.

Like the stage band, the show choir is now a recognized ensemble that represents the popular music idiom of the day. Since popular music and jazz have infiltrated all areas of living, including even religion, it must be recognized as a part of our musical heritage. Institutions of higher learning are realizing that teacher preparation curricula in music should include the organization and conducting of show choirs and stage bands as well as the traditional music groups. Unlike the mandolin clubs of the 1920s, popular music is here to stay, and our youth will enjoy hearing and producing it.

As the number of show choirs increased throughout the state during the 1970s students and their directors were anxious to bring the choirs together in a festival. This idea finally materialized in 1978 when the first show choir festival was held at Buckhannon-Upshur, High School. This festival has become so popular in recent years that the number of groups has to be limited.

Tacit - for now.