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Show Choir Season: Interviews and Insights

In this article, we share interviews and insights from two show choir directors – Jenni Winter of Grenada High School, Mississippi, and Julianne Fowler of Noblesville High School, Indiana.

Visions in Harmony: Grenada High School, Grenada, Miss.

“I’m always excited about show choir competition season,” explained Jenni Winter, show choir director at Grenada High School (GHS) in Grenada, Miss. “We might not always win, but we always have the greatest time.” She is a spirited director with a strong background in music and show choir, bringing a unique blend of expertise and enthusiasm to her role.

Embracing Growth & Competition

Winter took the helm with Visions in 2005. Under her guidance, GHS’ Visions show choir has grown significantly. “It took us a while to grow into something bigger,” Winter recalled; the group now boasts 60 high school students. Her other groups include a competitive middle school choir of 38 kids, a non-competitive show choir of 22 7th and 8th graders and even a 6th grade choir with 36 members.

One aspect that sets Winter’s approach apart is her focus on inclusivity in nurturing student performers. “Some years we have an overabundance of talented students, and I hate to cut them,” she said, highlighting her reluctance to limit opportunities for interested students, especially with no other vocal music classes available.

The show choirs under Winter’s direction are known for their vibrant, engaging performances. She expressed her passion for the competition season, describing it as a time when schools support each other, despite being rivals. “Even though you’re competing against each other, you’re still cheering for them,” she stated. “It’s fun to see the creativity of other schools.” Winter considers this spirit of camaraderie a hallmark of most show choirs.

Choreographing Teamwork

Her leadership extends beyond just directing. Winter has cultivated a team of former students who contribute significantly to the program’s enduring success and she appreciates the value of collaboration.

Her Visions team includes Matthew Murphy and Claire Barker, two GHS alums who began choreographing for her as students in 2012. Their creative contributions have been pivotal in shaping the choir’s performances. “Even as students they were amazing!” Jenni exclaimed, recalling their initial involvement.

Her son, Tripp McCrory, a Visions alum who graduated in 2018, also plays a vital role in the team. He assists with vocals, bringing a fresh perspective and a strong understanding of the group’s dynamics. “The four of us are a team,” Winter declared, stressing the synergistic nature of their relationship.

Ja’Mya Benson, another former student, leads the show choir band, while the band director is yet another alum, Michael Hankins. This close-knit team of past students and family members brings a unique blend of talent, creativity, and historical knowledge to the program.

Enhancing Performances with Technology & Equipment

To keep improving, Winter also highlighted the importance of adapting to new technologies and techniques in show choir performances. A recent $30,000 donation enabled the purchase of large screens and projection equipment, enhancing Visions’ stage presentations. “Now we can project scenery onto the screens,” she said, excited about the creative possibilities. Her team has also embraced the StageBook choreography app, making learning the shows easier and more accessible for students.

For platforms, GHS uses StageTek staging from Wenger: sixteen 4’ x 8’ decks are typically arranged in a 4 x 4 configuration. “I love our StageTek platforms!” Winter exclaimed. “We’ve had them for over 12 years and they’ve held up pretty well.” She claims they are very sturdy, despite a lot of wear and tear from being frequently moved. This staging is also used for other school activities like pageants, recitals, and proms.

Reflecting on Leadership

In summary, Winter’s advice to fellow directors is clear: “Learn to let people help you and realize that maybe your ideas are not always the best.” She values the opinions and contributions of her team, recognizing that collaboration and diverse ideas lead to more dynamic and successful performances. The team’s process involves extensive brainstorming and careful decision-making, often consulting with their music arranger, Ben Wexler from New York, for his original compositions to fit their storylines.

Winter’s leadership style and her team’s cohesive working relationship serve as an inspiring model for show choir directors everywhere. Her ability to draw on the talents of former students and incorporate them into her current team demonstrates a unique approach to building a flourishing program.

Grenada Visions Show Choir 2023 Show “Something to Believe In”

Blending Tradition and Innovation: Noblesville High School, Noblesville, Ind.

Noblesville High School Show Choir Director Julianne Fowler

“We have the opportunity to get kids really excited for the competitive atmosphere in high school show choir thanks to our awesome middle school choir directors,” noted Julianne Fowler, assistant director of the Noblesville Show Choirs at Noblesville High School (NHS) in Noblesville, Ind. Both middle schools provide a robust pipeline of talent from their audition-only show choirs that have placed highly in competitions for many years.

When Fowler arrived at NHS last year, the tradition of show choir excellence already spanned more than four decades. She takes pride in helping build on that legacy. The school boasts four show choirs – two varsity and two prep – providing students with a variety of options. The varsity groups (NHS Singers and New Dimension) each have about 60 students; the prep groups (Sensation and MaleTonez) range between 25 and 50 students.

“We try to ensure our kids learn a little bit of everything,” Fowler explained. With approximately 300 students participating in choir, the program caters to a wide range of talents and interests.

She appreciates the community’s vital role in nurturing the arts from preschool onwards; her own musical journey mirrors this community passion. Raised in a similarly supportive environment in Brownsburg, Indiana, about 40 miles away, Fowler’s love for music was kindled early, strongly influenced by her mother, a middle school choir director.

Organizing Stellar Events

Each year, the Noblesville Show Choirs participate in weekend competitions from January through March. In March 2024 they will host the “First Annual Indiana Show Choir Championships”, welcoming 12 groups from across the state and starting a new tradition.

“Running like a well-oiled machine is the goal,” she remarked. That includes having people backstage and in the warm-up room who fully understand the event’s scope and can answer questions. To help keep on schedule, she suggests adding a 5- or 10-minute buffer between performances, allowing for issues like hallway traffic and clearing the stage.

NHS may consider introducing an innovation Fowler saw at a recent competition: a dedicated costume repair room, staffed by skilled parent volunteers, stocked with all the necessary equipment and materials. “It changed my life!” she exclaimed, recalling how one of her students quickly had his split pants repaired.

Developing Captivating Shows

For the Noblesville Show Choirs’’ own performances, show development begins a year in advance, with Fowler and director John Neubauer brainstorming ideas to build a captivating competition set. “We bounce ideas back and forth off each other,” she explained. “We might really love one certain song and have a vision for building off it.”

Once school is back in session in August, the varsity groups “front load” competition rehearsals since they have more content to learn. Their focus then shifts to music for the fall and holiday concerts. The prep groups typically start learning their competition sets around fall concert time.

“We try to cater to what the kids need,” noted Fowler. “Especially with the younger groups – they first must learn how to learn and build up their stamina.” She added that they try to protect the students’ free time outside of the school year. Summer events like camps and certain fundraisers are voluntary.

Elevating Young Talent

Including the fall concert, the Noblesville Show Choirs usually perform 5-6 concerts in the NHS auditorium each school year. They use StageTek risers from Wenger for daily rehearsals and move them onto the stage for concerts.

“The StageTek risers are very stable and easy to work with,” Fowler commented. “We dance hard on them for many, many hours of the day and we haven’t had any issues or injuries with them, which is super nice.” She added, “Between music and other school activities, these risers are probably used 350 out of 365 days out of the year.” Along with occasional use at the middle school, the risers also support non-music high school events like National Honor Society ceremonies.

Enabling Diverse Participation

To improve accessibility for NHS students, fundraising plays a pivotal role. “We never want money concerns to be a barrier to entry for students,” Fowler remarked. From more traditional methods like sales of popcorn and cookie dough, NHS’ show choirs also branched out last year with an innovative social media campaign.

For this initiative, students created content and pushed it out through social channels. Some students showed behind-the-scenes activities at choir practice. Others did takeovers of the choir Instagram and walked people throughout a typical show choir day. Still others made video compilations involving interviews with questions like: “What does choir mean to you?” or “Why do you love choir?”

“It was a really cool fundraiser because many times people want to help students in the arts without buying something,” recalled Fowler. The campaign solicited donations, either to a student’s account or the choir program.

Innovative ideas like this illustrate how the Noblesville Show Choirs, aided by the commitment and zeal of Neubauer and Fowler, continue promoting high standards of musical achievement to support student growth. The effective blending of passion, planning, and performance quality maintains Noblesville High School’s status as an exemplary show choir program.




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