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U-N-D-E-F-E-A-T-E-D SEASON

By Geri Neita

Zionsville Community High School’s Royalaires and Choralaires made history this year by performing their way to an undefeated season.

Under the direction of Aaron Coates and Deana Broge, both groups rose to every challenge, accomplishing even more than was expected. “They’ve done everything we’ve asked them to do,” Broge said. “This year, in total, has been really strong and fun to watch.”

Royalaires have been entertaining local audiences since the mid- to late 1960s with show tunes and popular songs, but it wasn’t until a decade later that competitive show choir emerged.

Coates believes that within the last 30 years, the expectation for production value has changed. “Its complexity of movement and the visual aspect have grown the most,” he said, referring to the music, sets and costumes.

The duo has successfully co-directed for the past five years, giving each of them flexibility and the potential to accomplish more, such as splitting up the boys and girls to learn music at a faster pace. “It also allows us to manage our time more efficiently,” said Coates, who chairs the music department. “It has lots of benefits.”

Coates arranges all the music for the competition sets himself. Having an in-house arranger is convenient. It means not having to send ideas to someone else to manipulate, and allows for concepts to take shape organically. This season, those ideas brought about two delightful competition sets that are beautifully staged and entertaining throughout.

“Aaron and Deana do an outstanding job of evaluating and accentuating the collective strengths of each ensemble,” said Principal Tim East. “The shows this year really bring together the instrumental and vocal musicianship, choreography, costuming and staging that keeps the audience engaged from the first note to the last. The quality of the shows were clearly worthy of the Grand Champion awards both groups earned at every show they entered this season,” he said.

However, Coates and Broge are more than just music teachers. They help build character and shape lives, creating a family-like atmosphere and unifying the groups.

“You know that you can rely on everyone else,” senior Mia Kaehler said. “We’re emotional support. We’re academic support.”

“The outstanding experiences that our show choirs provide help students develop not only as performers, but also their teamwork, time management, and commitment to excellence — dispositions that will serve them well as productive citizens for the rest of their lives,” East said.

As a result, they are excellent ambassadors for the school and for the Zionsville community. East pointed out that we so often hear about the sensational, negative behaviors of only a few students, but when we see students coming together to compete in show choir or various extracurricular activities, it “gives us confidence that the next generation is going to make the world a better place.”

Recently, I met up with Royalaires and Choralaires at the Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference Choral Competition, where I spent time with hundreds of performers and spectators who settled in for a full day of entertainment.

Competition days start early.

Like other Choralaires, sophomore Colleen Leonard kicks off the covers at 5 a.m., spends about 40 minutes on her hair and an additional 20 minutes on makeup, and then heads out the door with her sister Clare, a Royalaire, to make their 6:50 a.m. call time at the high school. There, it’s on to school buses to reach the venue for a 9 a.m. performance.

As the 17-member combo and pianist take their places behind the risers for the Choralaires set and the crew prepares the stage, Royalaires chant in unison with other fans in the audience, showing their encouragement and camaraderie. There is an electricity in the air. Later in the day, when Royalaires take the stage, the auditorium will erupt once again.

Brenda Knecht is a first-year show choir parent whose son Ben is in Royalaires. “The thing I love watching the most is both groups supporting each other — how they cheer each other on,” she said. “I don’t see that with a lot of the other schools.”

Onstage, performers take their places clad in costumes that echo the theme of the show, and from my seat in the auditorium, they look stunning. Everything ties together beautifully, down to the last detail.

Martha Kaehler, chairperson of the costume committee, has had two daughters in show choir. Over the last six years, she has literally put in hundreds of hours sewing and maintaining costumes for both choirs. This year, she measured every single student: 54 Choralaires and 50 Royalaires.

Costumes arrive from the costume companies just two weeks prior to the first competition, and if they don’t fit, Kaehler and her crew make them work, which isn’t always easy. “Last year we had to reconstruct an entire suit for 24 boys,” she said. “That’s the hardest thing we’ve ever done.”

This year, the boys have one costume, which includes authentic cowboy hats. “We changed all the cowboy hats so that the hat liners matched on the inside,” Kaehler said, explaining that from the audience, everything must look uniform, so when the boys take off their hats during the performance, nothing should stand out.

“Once the kids get their costumes, they get into character, and the level of energy goes up,” she said. “It’s amazing! The kids feel the part, so they perform at a higher level.”

The Choralaires’ show centers around travel, while Royalaires sing and dance to a western motif. “It’s very theme-park-oriented,” Coates said of the Royalaires show. “It’s not anything new; Westerns and musicals have gone together from the very beginning.”

Choirs are judged on vocal and visual performances, including criteria such as tonal quality, dynamics, diction, facial expression, dance fundamentals and characterization, for a maximum of 400 points. Then, all the judges’ composite scores are totaled to determine the final ranking.

Both choirs sail through to finals, when they will perform their sets once again, competing against the top-scoring choirs in their divisions. Meanwhile, they listen to adjudication tapes in hopes that the critique will help them improve upon their upcoming performances.

As the day moves into evening, hair is re-curled, makeup is reapplied and costumes are donned once again. It’s back to the stage, and this time, Choralaires and Royalaires perform to standing ovations, bringing down the house with their high-octane performances.

Finally, with adrenaline still at a peak and after all the finalists have finished, the crowd files back into the standing-room-only auditorium to await results. With music pulsating from speakers, the noise level is high, and everyone is eager and excited with anticipation. First, the unisex choirs are announced, and cheers go up as Choralaires take best vocals and best visuals. Then, at last, the results for the mixed division are announced, bringing on spontaneous tears and screaming. Both Zionsville choirs have come out on top for the third week in a row!

Finally, close to midnight, with trophies and medals in hand, it’s back onto the school buses to head for home and a well-deserved good night’s sleep.

The week following the final competition, auditions took place to fill the spots for the upcoming school year. Around 180 students tried out (about 20 more than last year), but there is not a predetermined number of openings in each choir. The directors look for balance in voices and like to place an even number of boys and girls in the mixed choirs for visual harmony.

In July, a new crop of Royalaires and Choralaires will begin working together in preparation for the 2014–15 school year.

If you’d like to see Choralaires and Royalaires perform their award-winning shows and more, be sure to attend Finale, an end-of-the-year celebration brimming with talent. Shows are scheduled for May 16 and 17 at 7 p.m. in the Performing Arts Center. Tickets are $17.50 and will be available beginning April 21 at zchoirs.com or via the Zionsville Community High School website Performing Arts tab.

Possible side bar with competition results:

Franklin Central Hoosier Show Choir Classic
Feb. 22, 2014

Royalaires
Grand Champion — Large Mixed Division
Best Vocals
Best Instrumental Ensemble

Choralaires
Grand Champion — Unisex Division
Best Vocals
Best Choreography
Best Instrumental Ensemble

Lafayette Jefferson Xtreme Choir Showdown
March 1, 2014

Royalaires
Grand Champion — Overall
Best Vocals
Best Visuals
Best Show
People’s Choice Award

Choralaires
Grand Champion — Unisex Division
First Runner-up — Overall
Best Band
Best Tech Crew

North Central MIC Choral Competition
March 8, 2014

Royalaires

Royalaires, Thomas Anderson and Michelle Long

Grand Champion — Mixed Division
Best Vocals
Best Visuals

Choralaires
Grand Champion — Unisex Division
Best Vocals
Best Visuals

Shelbyville Singing Sensational
March 15, 2014

Royalaires
Grand Champion — Large Mixed Division
Best Vocals
Best Choreography
Best Backup Band
Best Costumes

Choralaires

Choralaire Sarah Ferguson

Choralaire Sarah Ferguson
Grand Champion — Unisex Division
Best Vocals
Best Choreography
Best Vocalist: Caitlin Parks
Best Backup Band

About Geri Neita

Geri Neita is a Zionsville resident and freelance writer who fronts a local Irish band.

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