A Capella in a Show Choir? What?

SBO Staff • August/September 2019ChoralThe Practical Conductor • August 28, 2019

A few years ago, I was fortunate enough to meet Jeremy Alfera. Jeremy has a great reputation in the state of Ohio, particularly for winning show choir competitions. Over time, I began to follow his success. I watched his show choir shows on YouTube, and then began to branch out into the videos of his AA-level symphonic choir. Yep – Jeremy Alfera does it all, folks. And he does it very well.

Then I noticed that he had some students who were copying Pentatonix. They called themselves “Logarhythms” and were a joy to watch.

I reached out to Jeremy, asking if he’d like to bring Logarhythms to our a cappella festival. Little did I know that he also had a 40-person a cappella CHOIR!

One thing led to another, and I discovered that Logarhythms was going to do a section in his competition choir show. Jeremy asked if he could bring them down for some coaching on a night I was rehearsing Eleventh Hour. We had some coaching and then sang for each other. It was just great. After that, I wondered…

“What will judges and audiences think of a cappella inserted into a show choir show?”

I asked Jeremy to tell all of you about his program, how he came to be interested in a cappella, and what happened when the a cappella dropped during show choir competition. His response follows, and then I added some YouTube links afterward so you can check out Marysville High School’s great program in toto.

“I’ve always been a choir nerd, and I was a part of every ensemble I could take part in in high school, including show choir. I’ve known I wanted to make a career in music since middle school! I got my music education degree from Ohio State University, and have been teaching for 10 years since, nine of which were at Marysville High School. I also do quite a bit of arranging for show choirs all over the country (including arranging most of my own music).

“Our choir program consists of three academic choirs: concert choir is open to anyone and is composed of about 85 9th-12th graders. They perform around a class C/B level. We have an auditioned select women’s chorus composed of about 50 9th-12th graders. They perform around a class B/A level. Symphonic choir is an auditioned group composed of about 90 10th-12th graders. They perform at a class AA level. There are also several sections of music theory that anyone can take, and an AP Music Theory course. There is also an extra-curricular a cappella choir and show choir. The a cappella choir is relatively new (three years old). Show choir has been around since long before I started here and has developed into a highly competitive group.

“I started to learn a little bit about a cappella music in college. I listened to groups like The Blenders and Rockapella (thanks to Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? growing up!), which led me to discover college a cappella. While I never got too in depth, I did own a few CDs and found stuff searching online.

“That was about the extent of my a cappella experience until the Sing Off came along a decade later! I was instantly hooked. It renewed my interest in a cappella and led me to start our extracurricular group. All of this was done without knowing a thing about how to teach an a cappella group. I discovered pretty quickly that, while there’s some overlap, the techniques needed for contemporary a cappella music are quite different!

“Obviously, The Sing-Off (and particularly Pentatonix) inspired me to start thinking about putting some a cappella into our show choir set. Last year, five motivated show choir students who were also big fans of the show put together an act for a school talent show. On their own, they figured out Pentatonix’s “Video Killed the Radio Star.” These students continued as a group for the remainder of the year, entering Marysville and Columbus area talent shows, performing more Pentatonix covers and even coming up with their own arrangements. A YouTube video of their original cover has received over 10,000 views.

“With growing interest in a cappella music among our students (and myself!), I thought it would be something relevant and interesting to add to the show. I didn’t have a lot of experience arranging a cappella music, so it was very much a collaborative process with the students. I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect and was mostly nervous about the logistical side of things. At show choir competitions there is no mic check or setting of levels.

“Overall the reaction was extremely positive. Judges recognized that it was something new and different. The show choir genre has developed to the point that it is almost expected that every group have a costume change. Often this is considered a ‘filler’ spot programming-wise (have a solo sing while everyone changes, etc…). Several judges made comments along the lines of ‘Thank you for actually doing something interesting during the middle of the show! This doesn’t seem like typical filler material at all!’ At one competition the quintet received the overall ‘Judges Choice’ award, which is simply the judges collective favorite moment/song/solo/etc…in a show. We had minimal balance issues at competitions but nothing detrimental enough to ruin the effect. Audiences went wild!

“Overall it turned out to be a great decision! I would definitely try something like this again, but it will have to be in some other new/creative/inventive way somewhere else in the show. I learned a LOT about how to teach an a cappella group in general, and the subtle (and not so subtle) style/technical differences.”

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