Swing Sing

Capital High School’s choir, the VIPs, performs at Swing Sing on Nov. 12, 2017.

Eight Kanawha County high school choirs will give spectators a first look into their upcoming competition season on Sunday, Nov. 17. Swing Sing, held annually in downtown Charleston at the Municipal Auditorium, will be celebrating its 45th anniversary with the 2019 event.

The event is not a competition, but rather an exhibition. For six local show choirs, it can be considered a warm-up for the first-year members. From January through March, these singing and dancing groups compete to be the best in an array of categories: band, choreography, crew, soloists, vocal performance, set design and more, including a best performer award, which is given to one performer from each school at most competitions.

However, the first-year members of a show choir usually have no idea what to expect out of their first performance.

A freshman and first-year member of Herbert Hoover High School’s High Impact show choir, directed by Kathy Silber, did not let that uncertainty stop her.

“I auditioned just for the experience, not having my hopes up,” said Alexa Sekercak, but she is not talking about auditioning for her place in the show choir. She is talking about a lead role in Herbert Hoover’s 2019-20 competition show, “Leaving Neverland,” in which Sekercak performs the role of Wendy Darling.

“When I got the part, it didn’t feel real,” she said. “I’ve become so close to everyone, especially Jacob [Peter Pan], and it really feels like anything can happen when you have your heart in it.”

Show choirs are not the only performers at Swing Sing, and the other two groups know quite a lot about putting their hearts into it. George Washington High School’s a cappella group, Unaccompanied Minors, directed by Ellen Ramey, is a tradition for Swing Sing.

Unlike the show choirs, the Unaccompanied Minors use only their voices for sound. Their talent never ceases to amaze the audience, which is usually an arrangement of family members and fellow students, such as members of the long-reigning state champion show choir, Hurricane High School’s Red Hot.

However, the other non-show choir must be accounted for, as well. In a recent shift at South Charleston High School, the Black Eagles dissolved their show choir, Chorale, into a vocal choir, directed by Billy Burdette. Their show “Dare to Be Different,” is a nod to their new jazz and a cappella sound.

Other performing show choirs of the night include Nitro High School, Sissonville High School and St. Albans High School.

The Nitro Showcats condense their mixed and unisex groups into one choir, directed by Amy Smith, to produce a fall show of talent. Their competition show remains in the box until January, but their abilities in vocal and physical performance are clear on the Municipal stage in November.

Sissonville High School’s Touch of Class, directed by Dale Miller, also hones in on a new competition season after winning their own state championship for the second year in a row last spring. In 2018, they kept the Municipal Auditorium from setting aflame with their captivating firefighter costumes and adorable dog picture, so fellow students expect quite the performance this year from Touch of Class with their show, “A Day in the Life.”

In 2017, St. Albans High School’s Classix might have seemed like the underdogs. They had the smallest choir at the 43rd annual Swing Sing. However, the show choir grew in numbers the next year, and now, under the direction of Daniel Gray, Classix is expected to be the best they have ever been.

The remaining two show choirs both have had substantial changes in recent years: Riverside High School and Capital High School each had a new director for the 2018 Swing Sing event. This year, their new directors will be officially settled in and ready to fight for awards.

Riverside High School’s Melodic Fusion consistently has a fun show to watch, but this year, as they bring their audience to spend the night in a museum, they have more potential than ever before. Under the direction of Allison Kessler, senior member Maddie Dankmyer promises Melodic Fusion will not disappoint.

“Melodic Fusion is excited to share their unique and colorful show with everyone,” Dankmyer said.

The Capital High School VIPs, or Voices in Perfection, directed by Leslie Riedel, have an interesting show of their own. For the 2019-2020 competition season, the VIPs will be presenting a show centered around the idea of family. They would like to remind their audience that blood relatives may not be your real family when there are people who love you and accept you no matter what. This is a key idea of show choir.

Trevor Avis, a senior member of Herbert Hoover’s High Impact and Forrest Gump in their 2018-19 competition show, sums this prospect up perfectly.

“Show choir is my favorite thing about high school, and I’m gonna miss it and the family I made while doing it,” Avis said.

The class of 2020 will be performing at the Municipal Auditorium an exceedingly small number of times during their final year in their high school choirs. For most, Swing Sing in the fall of 2019 and All-County Chorus in the spring of 2020 are the last times they will perform on that stage, but some students will add graduation to their list, as well. As the seniors take the stage for a final first performance, they begin to look back on all the memories they have made during high school and what lies beyond the costumes, caps and gowns.

The 45th annual Swing Sing will be held on Sunday, Nov. 17, at 2 p.m. Tickets are available for presale from any of the participating choirs at $8 per ticket and also may be purchased at the door.