Show Choir: The Marriage of Music and Movement

By Elaine O’Neal
Originally appeared in OMEA’s The Recorder, March 2016

Even the most well trained vocalist would be hard pressed to maintain vocal integrity while simultaneously singing and running 10 laps around a track. And yet it is exactly what show choir performers are asked to do in their typical 20-minute competition routine.

Fans and detractors of show choir can agree on one thing: show choir resonates deeply with youth who are drawn to the catchy arrangements, synchronized dance moves, or the innovative mash ups. Participants also broaden their horizons as artists, expanding their knowledge of genres of music; learn mic technique; and work with live bands. There are even national championships that whip participants and spectators into a frenzy worthy of sporting events; the excitement of Canada’s own national championship was captured in the 2015 Canadian Screen Award-winning documentary, Unsung: Behind the Glee.

That event — the Show Choir Canada Championships — was created by arts education pioneer George Randolph, who trains Canada’s top Triple Threat talent, and agent/producer Peter da Costa, who represents them. For five years, Show Choir Canada (SCC) has nurtured the development of show choirs in Canada, crowned five champions, and seen choirs return year after year to improved performances. While the competition already provides a unique experience for students, in 2016 SCC will be focusing on music educators, whether they already have show choirs in their schools and want to improve on the experience, or are just thinking about starting a show choir, but do not know where to begin.

One of the topics Show Choir Canada hopes to broach in a new series of free educator workshops is the challenge of adding movement to music–a hot topic at the recent OMEA conference that da Costa attended.

One challenge was simply the lack of resources, i.e., most schools have a music teacher, but not all have dance teachers. SCC aims to connect educators to choreographers in their areas, but also recommends encouraging students to create choreography themselves, or accessing other students in schools who are competitive dancers.

Another challenge was integrating complex choreography without compromising healthy vocal technique. The biggest obstacle is in the inherent disparity in training for singers and dancers. While singers are trained to contract and flatten their diaphragms, essentially pushing their abdominal muscles out and down, dancers are trained to contract and raise their abdominal muscles, thereby restricting the expansion vocalists require. To overcome this challenge, music directors and choreographers need to collaborate, and communicate clearly about the specific requirements of each discipline.

For educators leery about entering the world of show choir, SCC is offering a new pre-competitive division for high school and junior high schools. Competitors will be able to present routines to an audience of supporters in a professional theatre, and receive valuable feedback from international adjudicators without the added pressure of being scored.

The 2016 Show Choir Canada Championships take place April 15 and 16 at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre in Toronto. More information:

OMEA Members can contact to register for a free Show Choir workshop, “The X, Y, Glee of a Winning Show Choir” taking place during the 2016 Championships and receive a free ticket to the event.

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