Saturday night was out of the ordinary, for us — a choir concert for two middle schools and the high school they feed into. (Except that Kate will not go to that high school, but never mind that.) I suppose the intent was to show the whole vocal-music program from farm team to majors, and if so, it was impressive. I’ve always liked Kate’s choir and her teacher, but the high-school program is something else. I’ve not watched many episodes of “Glee,” but the little school’s nemesis, the well-funded, always-perfect Vocal Adrenaline? I saw them Saturday night.
The teacher has been there for a while, and is known for the rigorousness of her program, her high standards and her temper. A series of events a few years back led to the revelation of some ugly events in her personnel file — thrown staplers, verbal hectoring, the usual things you expect from a temperamental perfectionist — but an investigation by the state board of education left her in place. She had enormous support from the parents and her former students, but the damage was done. She was revealed as the Bobby Knight of show choir.
Now, I don’t know all that much about show choir, but I did a little reporting on marching band when I was in Indiana, and I suspect they’re the same. That is, they long ago stopped being about fancy marching during football halftimes and are now about intricate choreography, custom arrangements of current pop music and special effects, all displayed on a competitive circuit that’s unknown to virtually everyone who doesn’t have a kid participating. And those competitions are dominated by a handful of large, wealthy suburban schools with booster clubs that don’t mind paying top dollar for special-team coaching and flag-squad uniforms designed to sparkle just so under stadium lights. And other things. Lest you think I exaggerate, one proprietor of band-supplies store told me about an effect used by a Carmel school a year or two previous — a piece of fabric nearly the length of the field, called a “fly,” that required special equipment to launch. The thing was shot in the air, it gracefully unfurled just so, and it drifted over the field, hiding the band from the audience’s eyes for a few seconds before settling in a puddle on the other side. While the band was hidden, it was scrambling into a new formation, so that when the fly landed, ooh, look!
Rumored cost of the fly effect: $100,000. Ryan Murphy, the creator of “Glee,” is an Indianapolis native. While his fictional school is set in Ohio, their nemesis, Vocal Adrenaline, goes to Carmel High.
So, back to Saturday night. The middle-schoolers went first, the talent preview, the scouting report. And then it was time for all the high-school groups, and there were many — the Beginning Women, the Advanced Women, the Men’s Glee, the Pointe Singers — men’s, women’s, combined. (The concert ran for two hours. Tickets were $15, not including the afterglow at one of the nicer restaurants in town.)
Everyone was so good it made your heart ache. The women sang like angels, starting with a couple of numbers that showcased their control before breaking it up with a little musical comedy — “I Wonder if I Love That Boy Too Much,” a doo-wop number about stalking. (If it’s unfamiliar to you, that’s because it’s one of those numbers written for show choirs. Not so many current pop songs; sorry, Gleeks.) The boys’ big showstopper was “The History of Rap,” a medley that ran from the Sugarhill Gang through Jay-Z, and managed to get within sight of minstrelsy, but stopped short enough to remain inoffensive, if you’re not offended by nearly 30 boys, nearly all of them white, tho’in’ it down to “California Love.”
And the choreography! If you think it’s step-ball-change and an occasional grapevine move, well, it’s a bit more complicated than that. Quite a bit. Which reminded me of another thing that came out during the state-board investigation — that practices routinely run from after school to 11 p.m. That the reaction among her boosters boiled down to, “What? You think this stuff comes easily?” says a lot about the state of these non-athletic extracurriculars, not just choir, but band, theater, and all the rest. The quality of the performance rises steadily; this was honestly as good as a lot of musical theater I’ve seen. The question is, are you willing to pay the price?
Kate likes choir, but she’s not taking it next year, and besides, her high school’s program is, frankly, not in this league. She’s going with music theory and will (I hope) learn composition. Which I also hope will serve her throughout her life.
I’m so late it’s not even funny. So a quick bloggage scan:
Tomorrow marks the fifth anniversary of the last time Clarence Thomas opened his mouth during Supreme Court oral arguments:
If he is true to form, Justice Thomas will spend the arguments as he always does: leaning back in his chair, staring at the ceiling, rubbing his eyes, whispering to Justice Stephen G. Breyer, consulting papers and looking a little irritated and a little bored. He will ask no questions.
Another great Dear Sugar advice column you should read. Aimed at people in their 20s, but good advice no matter what the age.
Happy Valentine’s Day, all. I’m off to work like a field hand.