Writer / Cathy Wendorff
In their new vocal gymnasium, the Center Grove show choirs are preparing for upcoming competitions and aiming for another win at Nationals in March. Warming up with spectacular performances in December, they delivered amazing vocals, while performing difficult choreography in stunning costumes. Together with Choral Directors Jennifer Dice and Jared Norman, nearly 200 students compete across three varsity and two junior varsity ensembles. Not only are they loaded with talent, but also with experience, as the more than 50 seniors are eager to shine.
Dice credits the collaboration of directors, musicians, choreographers, vocal coaches, alumni and parents when she stated, “One thing I will say about our organization and, that is inclusive of our parents, is that we don’t just do things the way they’ve been done. We are always trying to make the program better, more efficient, more effective and give the kids the best opportunity that they can have.”
After 11 years at Center Grove, she says she is extremely fortunate to have a supportive parent booster program.
Established in 1980, several parents call their organization a well-oiled machine, including Center Grove Choir Parents Organization President Carla Slauter. With a successful framework of guidelines for the volunteers, from Tech Dads and Costume Moms to accounting and fundraising, a committee chairman may tweak them along the way.
“People bring great ideas each time,” Slauter said. “As new people come in, we just build on what’s worked or hasn’t worked. It’s really great that we have so many parents that are willing to give their time, because there’s something for everyone.”
Norman, a Center Grove alumnus, says he enjoys shaping the program where he started.
“It’s what I said that I wanted to do, it’s my dream job.’’
Norman directed the Debtones to a Nationals win in 2015.
Feeling like they have a great shot at winning Nationals again, he says, “This year’s show is one of my favorite shows that I have created.”
The production has a 1700s French theme and is based on Marie Antoinette, who will be played by Abby Plummer.
Preparing for shows and learning choreography has become easier with the spacious, new facility. Norman says he is grateful the room is big enough to put a semi-circle of chairs on one side and the risers on the other. He defined the Encore Event in October as a very successful fundraiser that will become an annual event. The “adult only” festivities included dinner, dancing, entertainment, and auctions at The Sycamore at Mallow Run.
Reminiscing about previous successes, Dice mentioned recent outstanding students Joel Flynn and Katie Swaney as some who positively influenced the current choirs through their legacies and achievements beyond Center Grove. Swaney was best known for being easy to talk to, very humble and there for everyone. Senior, Adrianna Goss won Best Soloist at Nationals as a sophomore in Debtones and is looking forward to her last season of competition.
The program’s core values include setting high expectations, providing students with plenty of opportunities to perform, and encouraging students to take voice lessons. Students are expected to practice enough to know vocals and choreography when they come to class.
“We do lottery testing …They hate it,” Dice says as she explains students are randomly selected to test specific parts, assigning the average grade to the class, keeping everyone on their toes and getting the ensembles to work together.
While their goal is to make every number entertaining for the audience, Dice points out, “We have got some kids, who are not only talented, but they are visionary too. They can see and hear and they are creative.”
Alex Milligan, in CG Singers and the only four-year member of Sound System, is an example as he taught himself to play guitar. All choral students are encouraged to create their own arrangements and audition for solos, but for the CG Singers, it is necessary for their capstone project.
In nearly three consecutive weekends, a core group of varsity students performed in multiple performances of Guys and Dolls, the Christmas Concert, and Madrigal Dinner. These very different productions showcased their abilities and capacity to learn a vast assortment of material. Senior Taylor Ward participated in all three programs and was entertaining as the Christmas Show master of ceremonies. Goss shared, “I think my favorite part of the three things was probably the Musical, just because I’ve really never done something like that before. It was something new that I could focus on.”
Dice addressed why they make last minute adjustments at competitions when admitting, “I like to see how we can evolve, to me that is the best part of it.” Slauter wrapped up by saying, “They are passionate about what they do. They love music. They love the kids and want the best for them. They push the kids to do their best and still have fun.” After years of competing and deciding when groups are capable of handling pressure, you can bet this season will include last minute changes to highlight the genuine gifts, their students are blessed with.