Best Show Choirs in America
1 of 13Jameson Jewell crowd surfs during a song as the Los Alamitos High Choir director David Moellenkamp puts the group through it's paces at a recent practice. SAM GANGWER, ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER Los Alamitos High choir director David Moellenkamp watches from on stage as the group practices for the upcoming Holiday Show. SAM GANGWER, ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER Los Alamitos High choir director David Moellenkamp likes what he sees from his performers during a recent practice. SAM GANGWER, ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER Los Alamitos High choir director David Moellenkamp makes the group sing while they "plank" in order to strengthen their diaphragms at a recent practice. SAM GANGWER, ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER Sophia Ungaro, left, Maria Lemire, center, and Katie Bradley pirouette during rehearsal for SoundFX in preparation for Los Alamitos High School's annual holiday show. SoundFX was voted best show choir in the United States last year by readers of Parade Magazine. PHOTOS: SAM GANGWER, ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER Mario Arias performs Ralphie in SoundFX's musical adaptation of "A Christmas Story." SAM GANGWER, ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER Kassidy Dillon places her hand in front of her mouth as she sings during a recent practice for the Los Alamitos High Choir Holiday Show. SAM GANGWER, ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER Los Alamitos High choir director David Moellenkamp stands up on stage as he puts the group through it's paces at a recent practice for their Holiday Show. SAM GANGWER, ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER Zoe Preall listens to direction from Los Alamitos High choir director David Moellenkamp at a recent practice. SAM GANGWER, ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER Alexia Del Alcazar, left, Karoline Ribak and Kassidy Dillon sing during rehearsal. SoundFX is using the program as a tuneup for the competitive show choir season. SAM GANGWER, ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER Adam Kolkin ASHER KLEIN, ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER Tyler Adams ASHER KLEIN, ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER Zoe Preall ASHER KLEIN, ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
Jameson Jewell crowd surfs during a song as the Los Alamitos High Choir director David Moellenkamp puts the group through it's paces at a recent practice.SAM GANGWER, ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
Show choir: Not your parents' 'Glee' club
Show choir has been no stranger to spotlights since the song-and-dance form was introduced in the '70s, but it really hit the big time in 2009, when "Glee" premiered on Fox.
The show stars a Los Al graduate, Matthew Morrison, as the director of an Ohio high school show choir. It has a huge following, called Gleeks, but the show has a reputation among the Los Alamitos Show Choir program as being cheesy or over the top.
Los Al Director David Moellenkamp said there's a lot that's similar between the show and real life, with a few minor discrepancies. His students don't get to pick the music, for example.
There are definitely some moments where Los Al students might break into song, "Glee"-style, according to senior Tyler Adams: "I have videos on my phone of us just jamming out on the choir, singing."
But what viewers don't get from "Glee" is how athletic show choir performers have to be, Booster Club Treasurer Rachel Gooch said, though she appreciated what "Glee" has done to correct the idea that show choir is "just stand and sing."
"We're real-time, " Gooch said. "They get coffee breaks and two takes. What we get is 100 percent live."
Dates down the road
This April, two Los Al show choirs will visit Nashville's Grand Ole Opry, the mecca of country music and one of the most famous stages in the world, for the Showchoir Nationals Competition. Then there's a bunch of competitions at high schools throughout the region, like Burbank and John Burroughs.
But show choir fans won't have to travel far to see some of the best routines in the country when Los Alamitos High hosts Xtravaganza in March. Los Al doesn't perform, but more than 50 other groups do in one of the biggest competitions in the country.
Lastly, there are three more local shows the Show Choir Program stages here at home
Los Alamitos Choir shows at Margaret Webb Performing Arts Center:
Holiday Show: Thursday through Saturday
Spring Show: February 20-22
Pops Show: May 29-31
Times: 7 p.m., plus a 2 p.m. matinee Saturdays
Show choir trophies won in 2013
SoundFX – advanced mixed gender:
• Grand Champions at Burroughs Showcase (also Outstanding Musicianship, Best Show Design, Best Female Soloist)
• Grand Champions at FAME Orlando (also Best Vocals, Best Show Design, Best Male Soloist)
• First runner-up at FAME Nationals in Chicago (also Vocals, Best Show Design, Best Repertoire)
Soundtrax – advanced women's:
• First runner-up at FAME Nationals in Chicago (also Best Show Design, Best Soloist)
• First runner-up at FAME Orlando
Xtreme – all-levels men's:
• Grand Champion at Arcadia Pow Wow and Hart Encore
Axcent – intermediate women's:
• Grand Champions at Burroughs Showcase, SoCal Invitational (also Outstanding Musicianship, Outstanding Showmanship)
Sources: Los Alamitos Show Choir, showchoirs.org
ZOE PREALL, 17, SENIOR, SECOND SOPRANO:
Q: What's one of your fondest memories from show choir?
A: Sophomore year we had our Wizard of Oz set in this group (SoundFX). The last number, everybody's on stage really connected with each other. We were finally listening to the lyrics, we all were listening to each other. We were all looking at each other, we were smiling. It was our last performance of that year, that was the last time we were doing that show and all of us were sobbing and dancing our hearts out and singing our hearts out. When we hit the final pose, ah! It was one of the most incredible experiences.
TYLER ADAMS, 17, SENIOR, BARITONE:
Q: What do you think of Mr. Moellenkamp?
A: Probably one of the most inspiring people I've ever met.
Q: What do you remember from going to nationals?
A: We never hang out together outside of choir so it was nice to hang out, enjoy the group, hang out with other groups. I made so many new friends.
ADAM KOLKIN, 16, SENIOR, TENOR AND YOUNG KURT ON ONE EPISODE OF 'GLEE':
Q: What was your best memory from your first year in show choir?
A: When I walked in the room the first day I could tell everyone was so much better than me. But as competition season rolled around, they really felt like a family to me. We were all links in the chain.
Q: Is it hard to balance choir with school work?
A: It's really hard to balance because I'm acting, I'm in show choir and I still have to keep up with my academics. I'm taking BC Calc, AP Physics and AP Lit. It's hard to keep up but I manage. A lot of lost sleep.
Near the beginning of rehearsal, the last before Thanksgiving, the SoundFX show choir is being put through its paces, running through a rollicking holiday song medley over and over.
In one attempt, the performers' feet are too loud as they run to the front of the stage. In another, director David Moellenkamp changes the choreography. Then they just didn't have enough energy for Moellenkamp.
It's looking like America's best show choir, as voted by readers of Parade Magazine last year, has already checked out for the short holiday.
“If you have more energy and you're under the age of 16, I need you to bring it, ” Moellenkamp said, his voice mixing a parent's cajoling, a teacher's exasperation and a buddy's egging on.
Show choir combines song and dance with athleticism and improv, and there's always something the group can be doing better. Moellenkamp spent the next three hours refining, reminding, berating and motivating the 50 or so actors/singers/dancers in Los Alamitos High School's performing arts center to prepare them for the annual holiday show.
They have a couple of days of practice left, and Moellenkamp would like a half-dozen.
He held the threat of running an extra mile over their heads like a football coach, then took issue with a lackluster “fa” in a “fa-la-la.”
“You've got 10 things you're fixing right now and it all starts with the breath, ” he said, as the kids do a mouth-shaping exercise.
This one does the trick. On the next run-through, chords suddenly shining through like sunlight through a cloudy day. Pleased for a moment, Moellenkamp said it's off to the next song, calling once again for energy.
The holiday show is the tuneup for competition season, which will take SoundFX and a few other groups in the Los Alamitos High School Choir Program across the country in 2014, including to the famous Grand Ole Opry in Nashville.
If they're going to do well in these shows they're going to have to master – well, a whole lot of things, it seems. Luckily, the kids absolutely love the process.
“He always pushes you to be better than what you actually think you can be, ” senior Holly Tinturin said about Moellenkamp during a break. “He helps you realize who you really are and who you really want to be.”
Show choir is to Broadway musicals what “Friday Night Lights” is to the NFL – a comparison that's beginning to be justified by the rising popularity of the competitive song-and-dance format.