"Glee" has struck a chord with the nation – and obviously with me. On the show, Spanish teacher Will Schuester (Matthew Morrison) recollects the day when he was in high school and how "cool" it was to be in glee club. He corrals a group of misfits to recreate said glee club: a boy in a wheelchair, an overly ambitious Barbara Streisand wannabe, a sassy diva, a Goth girl with a stutter, the token gay kid and a sensitive jock. Thus begins the journey of a group of underdogs that will sing their hearts out and tell the world that "it's okay to express your emotion through song and dance."
San Francisco is the perfect setting to form such a group. It's full of people who are willing to take artistic risks, there's a strong community that supports the performing arts and there are plenty of people who think they can be stars – like myself.
I was involved in choir at Judson High School in Converse, TX (a suburb of San Antonio). Every spring we performed our annual pop show called "Rocket Revue" (our mascot was a rocket) where we would perform contemporary pieces and fulfill the definition of a show choir. In the year I was in choir, the theme of our pop show was "Rhythm of the Night" based on the song originally performed by the '80s group of R&B pop royalty DeBarge.
I remember it like it was yesterday. Set to a backdrop of a glittery silver curtain, we wore sequined vests whilst performing choreographed dance steps that resembled a middle-aged jazzercise class. We also performed numbers like "Footloose," a medley of songs with the word "friend" in the title, and true to Texas form, we two-stepped to a "Sea of Cowboy Hats." Unfortunately, there were no jazz hands, but there was a lot of swaying, finger-snapping, box steps and dramatic sweeping arm movements.
Although high school is not a time I would want to relive, singing and dancing in front of a willing audience is something I wouldn't mind doing again. There is something about performing karaoke-esque musical arrangements of hits from the 20th century that makes me feel like a star.
I aim to recreate that adrenaline rush of performing in front of an audience – but instead of performing dated songs and doing robotic dance moves, I want it to be cool and hip.
Varsity Gold Show Choir from Abraham Lincoln High School is the real deal. They are a true-to-life show choir like the kids on "Glee" – except they are not misfits (at least I don't think so). The director, Dr. Derrick Spiva, informs me that a show choir is sometimes called a "swing choir" and it includes a group of people who combine choral singing and dance under the umbrella of a specific story.
In addition to a track record of superb service in education, the real-life Mr. Schuester has a landslide of acting, directing and choreography credits including "The Blues Brothers." "I live 'Glee'" he says. This is Dr. Spiva's first semester with Varsity Gold. He may be filling in as a new teacher, but he knows that these kids are talented.
Be that as it may, I want to see for myself – to see what makes a proper show choir. I ask to sit in on a couple of their rehearsals and he is more than welcoming. But considering the school year has yet to start, I'll have to wait.
Until their first official rehearsal, I alleviate the "urge to glee" by sitting in on an open rehearsal of the San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus. They aren't a bonafide show choir but they have elements of one, which would give me a better picture of how my show choir should look and sound.
It turns out the night I came in was "new member night" where potential audition-ees came and rehearsed with the current members. I was intimidated. I walked into the rehearsal room and surveyed the diverse army of tenors and basses. I sat in the corner like a fly on the wall as they warmed up with vocal exercises I recognized from my choir days. One included an exercise called "Halloween Lady" where they made spooky sounds – the kind of sounds you make when you are trying to impersonate a ghastly ghoul or a drunk owl.
The warm-ups alone filled the room with a robust sound of vocal delight. Eventually, the harmonious arpeggios and blissful scales infected me. I found myself warming up with them, under my breath, of course. I really think this was out of habit. It's like when you see someone yawn; you have to as well. It's contagious.
Warm-ups ended and the artistic director and conductor Dr. Kathleen McGuire took the podium and they immediately went to work on one of the pieces for their California Tour, which begins this month. The room of happy men composed themselves and started to sing: "If I were gay-(doo-doo-doo-doo-doo-doo)-that would be okay-(doo-doo-doo-doo-doo-doo-doo)"
Occasionally, Dr. McGuire stopped to tweak some minor problems in each section: first the tenors, then the baritones, then the bellowing basses. The problems were really minor and it made me flashback to the days in choir when the director would do the same exact thing – except Dr. McGuire was much nicer. Much, much nicer. Just when I thoght they were finished with the rehearsal, Dr. McGuire said, "Now let's do it with choreography!"
I immediately got excited because this was totally unexpected. They all stood up and started singing whilst mimicking the motions of a guy taking a jolly stroll through the park. With each lyric, they made comedic gestures and gave a hint of jazz hands. For the big finale, they linked arms and high-kicked. They were not the Rockettes, but they gave a valiant effort.
It was exactly what I pictured and it embodied Dr. Spiva's definition of a show choir. They sang, they danced and they told a story. It all came together – and it was real. They weren't fictional characters on a TV show. It gave me confidence I needed to start my own group like this in San Francisco. There were people out there who were willing to sing and dance.
All of this made me remember Dr. Spiva's requirements for members of a strong show choir:
- They have to study vocal music.
- They have to know how to dance.
- They have to love to work hard.
- They have to love to perform.
For the most part, I am all of those. Now, to find people who can join me on stage – that's going to be the fun part.
If you want to learn more about show choir, the one to watch is "Glee." It's heartwarming, fun and can give you a glossy version of a contemporary show choir. The San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus has elements of a show choir, so you can see them perform on their California Tour soon; but if you can't make that, check out their website for concert dates throughout the year.