It takes a lot of work to #dreambigsoarhigh as the Urbana High School Show Choir hashtag declares, and the Soaring Sensations have been putting in that work.
The group of fully choreographed and staged choral performers was established in 1998, but “this is the first year that the season began with auditions,” said Alicia Cosby, choir director who leads the show choir of 20 female and five male students.
This was also the first season that began with summer camp. During the second week of August, show choir members spent 12 hours a day learning from Dallas Pritt, a professional choreographer who visited from Nashville. Pritt, who choreographs, coaches and adjudicates competitive show choirs, choreographed an entire show for the Soaring Sensations.
Dance Captain Bridget O’Brien, a senior in her fourth year of show choir, said, “I thought it would be long, hard days—and it was—but it ended up being a lot of fun. It was amazing working with Dallas.”
“When I found out we were working with (Pritt),” O’Brien continued, “I went online and looked him up and watched previous dance routines he’d choreographed. I was excited to see what he’d come up with for our choir, and to see how we’d meet his expectations.”
Cosby was likewise excited for her students to work with Pritt. “Not only is he a professional choreographer,” said Cosby, “(but) he works with a team of costume designers. They’re making costumes unique to us, fitted to our members!”
The show choir entered the competitive realm for the first time last year, when Cosby took the group to Martinsburg, West Virginia, “to get their feet wet. … They competed against 18 schools and were student-choreographed.”
O’Brien, who was one of the student- choreographers for that set, said that when she watched the recording of the competition, it was clear that their group did not fully understand show choir competition.
“But (Pritt’s choreography) has made us competitive. My goal this year is: We do our best and show the show choir community that we’re here, and we’re a force to be reckoned with.”
This year, the Soaring Sensations will compete twice in Virginia and once in West Virginia, against choirs from Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Ohio.
The show choir meets daily, as a regular class, during the first semester of school. They will then shift to meet on Monday evenings. During the first semester class, every day of the week has a theme. On Music Monday, students work on harmony and other musical elements. On Theory Tuesday, they work on rhythm and training the ear.
Singing and dancing at the same time requires a great deal of endurance, so “Wednesday is Workout Wednesday,” Cosby said. “We use it to build up stamina.”
O’Brien’s favorite day is Thirsty-for-More Thursday, when the eight student leaders decide what to work on. “That’s the day we can see our hard work paying off,” she said. The choir wraps up the week on Full-in Friday.
Cosby taught music at Kemptown Elementary School for 16 years. Now, she continues to build upon the UHS Show Choir program that her predecessor, Monika McCormick, built.
“This is my third year (with the Soaring Sensations),” she said, “but this is the first year it feels like mine.”
Three students in the current choir had Cosby as a music teacher for six years in elementary school, and they now have her again at UHS. “It’s a family,” said Cosby.
There are typically about five songs per set, and the choir will have four or five performances throughout the school year. There will be a public Show Choir Gala in December.
“We did the gala last year,” said O’Brien, “and it was just a lot of fun. We could each do our own solo if we wanted, and show off our talents.” During solo performances, the rest of the show choir members sat in the audience. “While people were doing their solos,” said O’Brien, “we were all so encouraging, (being) great audience members for those performing, because we all know how hard it is. We support each other and hype each other up. I like that.”
“(The student leaders) are working really hard to unite everyone,” said Cosby. “Instead of ‘Look at me, I’m the best,’ they’re figuring out the best way to support each other, giving each other props. I’m really proud … that they’re pushing the positive.”
The gala will take place on Dec. 11, 7 p.m. in the Urbana High School auditorium. The ticket price will be $10 at the door. Funds support the UHS Choir program.