Music News & Reviews

Scott Co. High choir gets in on 'Glee's' act

Emily Curtis admits it: She's a total gleek: a Glee geek.

She loves the show, she loves the music, she loves the dancing, she loves it all — and she has the gleek T-shirt to prove it.

And when you love like that, you feel inspired to share. So Curtis and her friend Victoria House decided that Scott County High School needed a show choir.

"It just looked like so much fun," Curtis said after watching Glee, the Fox hit that began its first full season in September and quickly found its pop-culture niche. "I just thought, we have to do this."

Scott County, in a Glee-like twist, had a show choir long ago, but it had faded away. Just as teacher Will Schuester was determined to resurrect the choir at Glee's fictional McKinley High School in Lima, Ohio, House and Curtis wanted to bring choreographed choir back to Georgetown.

They approached teacher Dee Ann Gray. Although Gray's background is in more traditional choral arrangements, she was inspired by the students' enthusiasm.

"They were really excited," Gray said.

The girls were a good pair to start with. Curtis had a long history with singing; House had been dancing practically since she could walk.

That's how it began.

No one was sure how many other kids would be drawn to the new group. Scott County, one of the largest high schools in the state, already had a variety of choirs and ensembles.

To Gray's surprise, 40 kids auditioned.

In the end, 17 were chosen, based on their ability to sing, dance and, well, put on a show.

"They have to have a good stage presence and sing in tune," she said. (One boy has since been sidelined because of a skiing injury. They considered doing a wheelchair number, a la Glee, but decided against it.)

Some, like twins Dominique and Donovan Norris, are true gleeks who can see themselves among the characters in the show's ensemble cast. Dominique relates to strait-laced Finn. Donovan favors roguish Puck. Others are not that familiar with the show but wanted the opportunity to perform in the choir.

The TV series has put a spotlight on show choirs across the country, said Kevin Kelly, an Iowa college professor who runs two show-choir Web sites. He became involved when his children, now in college, took part in their high school show choirs. He has listed 800 choirs across the country at www.showchoirindex.com and gets calls every week from people who want to start glee clubs.

He thinks part of the appeal is the level of performance and the chance to be a bit more in the spotlight than with a more traditional choir, which might feature solos but is geared toward true choral works, often classics. Plus, there isn't much movement.

"When I was in school there were swing choirs, but their feet were glued to the risers," he said.

Like more traditional choirs, show choirs compete at musical festivals. At the highest levels, the costumes and choreography become quite elaborate.

Oprah Winfrey recently featured a show choir from Burbank, Calif., that performed Madonna's Vogue in Louis XIV-era attire, complete with powdered wigs.

The show-choir contingent in Kentucky isn't quite there yet.

There aren't many show choirs in the Bluegrass, said John Stroube, executive director of the Kentucky Music Educators Association.

He's not sure why they haven't caught on. It might be, he said, that they require a lot of work and, ultimately, a professional, paid choreographer. Music directors already struggle to balance the needs of various groups.

He said neighboring states Indiana and Ohio have a thriving show-choir culture.

At Scott County, they're working up a repertoire of six to eight songs and are preparing for a few performances in the community and in front of the school. At a recent rehearsal, if you closed your eyes, as the choir started with the syncopated "dah, dah, dah" that marks the show-choir version of Don't Stop Believing that was featured in Glee's pilot episode, you could imagine that you had stumbled across a cast rehearsal for the television series. But the group has a ways to go, Gray said.

Although performance is crucial, during rehearsals she emphasizes proper vocal technique, so the sound is just so.

"We are just in our infancy," she said.

But they're Glee-ful about it.

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