Let the show choir competition season begin!

Betsy Reason

What a great start to Noblesville High School’s show choir competition season.

NHS Singers, the high school’s top mixed show choir, on Saturday night took home Grand Champion of the Jay County Show Choir Spectacular, along with Best Choreography and Best Vocals awards.

Their traveling companion choir, New Dimension, NHS’s top all-female show choir, won Champion Women’s Show Choir, Best Vocal Sound in their division and Best Crew.

What an amazing day that began with students rising in the wee hours of the morning to board four Noblesville school buses by 4:45 a.m. to travel to Jay County High School in Portland, nearly 90 minutes northeast of Noblesville.

And just as soon as the choirs arrived at Jay County, they began preparing for their first competition, with New Dimension warming up at 8 a.m., just before competing at 8:30 a.m. on the auditorium stage.

New Dimension performed music by Alan Menken, Burt Bacharach, Madonna, and Ike and Tina Turner. (My daughter sang the opening solo of Menken’s “Fabulous, Baby!” And all of the solos were definitely fabulous.

NHS Singers wouldn’t compete until after lunch, at 1:45 p.m. on the auditorium stage, with an amazing set featuring songs by Stevie Wonder, Neil Sedaka, Justin Hurwitz, George Michael and Steve Perry.

Then there would be awards at 4:30 p.m., with New Dimension announced as winner of their division.

Then there was a dinner break, a performance by the Ball State Singers, then finals for the top mixed show choirs beginning at 6:45 p.m. with NHS Singers competing again at 7:20 p.m., and awards late in the evening, at 10:45 p.m. While it made for a long day with students arriving back home at nearly 1 a.m., it was also an exhilarating and rewarding day for the choirs. During the time that our Noblesville choirs were on stage, there was so much energy in the room.

“All the students were challenged to rise to the occasion very quickly. We more or less stopped rehearsing in mid-December, came back on Jan. 11 and had to be ready to make it happen four days later,” NHS choral director John Neubauer said on Tuesday after the contest.

“The students really stepped it up in all areas. The band, the crew, the Singers, the soloists and the parents who assist on costuming and with the set,” he said.

“With the Covid situation, it is even more complicated. Encouraging students to keep distance, masked (on the bus and in practices) and as safe as possible is complicated,” Neubauer said.

(The choirs were not required to wear masks while competing on stage Saturday.)

“Overall, the students, obviously, did their job. Mrs. (Shannan O’Dowd) Masten (assistant choral director) and I are very proud of them,” Neubauer said.

How are these first wins a great start to the competition season?

“It takes a lot of work and tunnel vision to be ready for a show choir competition,” Neubauer said. “We have been working towards this since almost Day 1 of school. (Freelance choreographer Jarad Voss has been teaching the choirs their dances since August.) All the pieces for success are in place. The students know the material. So now we get to focus on growing the product to be bigger, more effective, more exciting. It is a matter of the students having the drive to continue to grow these productions.”

How are these competitions good for NHS choirs? “I think competition is great for the students,” Neubauer said. “They definitely want to be recognized for excellence. And, especially, the older students understand what it takes to get to excellence. The younger students largely follow by example, and hopefully excellence is self propelling. The choir also bonds with each other on these trips.  Friendships are built. They also meet students from other schools and get to share ideas and see productions from other schools. It is a great time, and I think the students love these days very much.”

Learn anything from this first competition of the season?

“We learned a lot about the determination of our students to work for a high goal and to deal with adjustments, changes, challenges and their ability to deal with some adversity.”

This is just the start of show choirs’ competition season. Next weekend, the two choirs are off to Franklin Community High School, then Feb. 5 to Fishers High School (with Sensation and MaleTonez joining NHS Singers and New Dimension in the competitions), then on Feb. 12 MaleTonez and Sensation will head to Plainfield, then NHS Singers and New Dimension will travel to Davenport, Iowa, then the four choirs will compete at Warren Central.

“The students are excited to represent NHS at all our competitions,” Neubauer said. “Each of the competitions will be a little different. Our competition in Iowa will be quite different as it is held in a broadway-style theater in downtown Davenport, Iowa, and will feature choirs that we have not seen recently or maybe even ever. Of course, we are also attempting to qualify for the (mid-March) ISSMA State Finals in Show Choir which will feature nine mixed choirs and nine single-gender choirs with only the top-scoring choirs in Indiana being invited.”

For anyone who wants to view the show choirs’ competition sets, there is a free public performance at 7 p.m. Jan. 27 in the NHS Auditorium, just before the Franklin competition that weekend. Performers will be masked. “We ask the audience to also be masked,” Neubauer said. “MaleTonez, Sensation, New Dimension and Singers will all perform. Can’t wait.”

He is proud to be a part of Noblesville High School’s history and “long tradition of having great show choirs.”

Neubauer said, “I remember seeing Singers back in my youth. It’s exciting to lead the program that has a rich history.”

New Dimension and Sensation all-female show choirs have done very well, too, in the competitive arena, he said. “MaleTonez is definitely a unique group of guys that have a ton of fun making music together.”

The entire choral department, including the Main Event Band (for New Dimension and Singers) and the Keytonez (band that backs up MaleTonez and Sensation) “are some of the best students and people at NHS. The community should be proud of them. I know we (Mrs. Masten and myself) are very proud of them.

And one more thought.

Some of the other choir programs brought in thousands of dollars in lights and sets… and Noblesville choirs still beat all of their competitors.

How does that happen?

“I’m ‘old school,’” Neubauer said. “By that, I mean I live by this philosophy: Singing and dancing is what show choir is. I love great costumes and special effects as needed to make the production great. But without great singing and great dancing, there is no real show choir. Not meaning to ‘diss’ groups who spend more on icing but educationally, I’d rather focus on the cake.”

-Contact Betsy Reason at  A District Show Choir Concert for the public featuring all of the district’s show choirs will be March 17 at NHS.