CHOIR CHARMS BIG APPLE Song, dance group wins competition NORTH -- Manchester * Hampstead * Lineboro


It was like something out of the movie "Fame."

The North Carroll Ensemble, a show choir from North Carroll High School, went to New York City April 25 to participate in the "Music, Maestro, Please!" choral competition.

They won.

Competing against choirs from as far away as Iowa and Alabama, the North Carroll Ensemble was the only group awarded a Gold rating, the highest given.

The next day, what started out as a sightseeing trip to Radio City Music Hall became an impromptu performance before one amused Rockette and a gaggle of befuddled tourists.

A "show choir" is a choral group that performs choreographed dances while it sings, said Charles O'Day, Ensemble director and choral director of North Carroll High School.

The Ensemble, formed in 1975, was the first show choir in Carroll County. The group performs for schools, service clubs, seniors groups and special occasions, singing show tunes, pop and gospel selections.

At competitions, Mr. O'Day said, show choirs are judged on their tone quality and showmanship, "as if someone was auditioning for a Broadway show."

While the Ensemble took a guided tour of the Radio City Music Hall, led by one of the high-stepping Rockettes, a Carroll County mom let on that this band of tourists knew how to dance.

Mr. O'Day said the Rockette said, "You do? Well, get up there and show me."

So a bunch of high school students from Carroll County founthemselves singing and dancing their version of Stevie Wonder's "Signed, Sealed, Delivered" in the Rockettes' practice room.

The other tourists didn't seem to mind, choir members said.

"They hadn't really heard of a show choir before," said senior Jason Swam, 18. "They were just, like, 'Whoa!' "

Afterward, the Rockette re-arranged the choir members by height and showed them how to do the Rockettes' trademark high-kicking line dance.

"It was so neat," said Mr. O'Day, "because they had done dance before and they knew just how to follow what she was doing."

For the competition, the choir had to choose the best parts of its regular 70-minute show. The choir had 23 minutes to set up its equipment, perform five numbers and get off the stage.

In addition to about 20 dancers, the group includes a pianist, Jenny Miller; a drummer, Tony Wysk; and a bass player, Todd Miller. Mr. O'Day plays the synthesizer for the Ensemble.

For competitions, one of the numbers must be a ballad, Mr. O'Day said. A slower tune gives the judges a chance to hear the group's vocal quality while they're "not jumping, dancing and leaping around."

He said that judges look for "that excited look, like you're really into the music."

These performers have that look.

They spin and whoop and sing and look happy the whole time. They never seem to run out of breath.

"Get those eyebrows up," says Mr. O'Day from the sidelines. "Smile!"

OC In its regular 70-minute show, the choir goes through three cos

tume changes. The boys wear white or black tuxedos. The girls wear matching gowns. Everyone wears white gloves.

Wardrobe mothers go with the group to lay out the costumes and make sure they are cleaned and pressed, Mr. O'Day said.

He said the singers are responsible for their own stage makeup.

"That's part of being a show choir," he said.

Mr. O'Day said Ensemble members are chosen for talent in singing, dancing and showmanship. Some 44 students are auditioning for eight openings for the coming year, he said.

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