You’ve got to get up pretty early if you want to beat the Ottumwa High School Show Choir. For the first time in the school’s history, the show choir was named Grand Champions.
“There were tears of joy from some of the kids,” said Dennis Vasconez, choir director of Sudden Impact. “This has been years [of effort]. Two practices a week, with one at 6:30 a.m., not counting choreography and [extra] practices — all outside of school.”
Though there are music competitions for high school students, show choir, with an emphasis on pop music, show tunes and presentation, is the only school vs. school contest available. And students take it seriously.
“It’s very competitive ... cut throat,” said Vasconez. “In the choral world, there’s nothing else like it.”
OHS hit four official competitions around the state this year, which they say has been their most successful in the more than 10 years of competing. The divisions are the same as those for athletics: Ottumwa is a 4A school. The way it works, said Vasconez, is that during the regular part of the day’s competition, schools compete against others in their division. However, judges select the best schools to compete in the finals that night. Those schools are up against anyone the judges put in the finals. OHS usually did well, with second- or third-places this year, and in the three contests where there was a final, made it into all three. This past weekend, the competition named at the end of the day was West Dubuque, Marion and Mount Pleasant.
Though the school from Dubuque was a big school, the coach’s real concern while in Manchester was from closer to home.
“Mount Pleasant has a good track record and was leading by three points (out of 600) going into the night’s competition.”
So for the day, Mount Pleasant took first place with Ottumwa in second. At night, the students from Ottumwa reversed the day’s trend: Mount Pleasant took second place, losing by just three points to Ottumwa.
It probably didn’t hurt that Ottumwa had some audible power on their side. A 20-piece band, also made up of Ottumwa students, was named “Best Band.” Jacoby Clingman took outstanding male soloist of the contest. Madalynn McKelvey and Brandon Lien each received a superior soloist award. Combined with a talented (they also won best choreography) and extremely experienced show choir (eight of their seniors will graduate this year), the group pushed past the competition to make Ottumwa High School history.
But there are more well-known competitions in the world of high school activities. Did anyone notice the Sudden Impact victory?
“I can’t walk down the hallway without someone congratulating me,” said Vasconez. “I’m hearing from kids, from parents ... and from students I hadn’t heard from in five years.”
The show choir includes dancing, singing and a backup band with guitar and bass. Parents help out backstage, and Vasconez has a co-director, his wife Melissa Vasconez. The music is the stuff people have heard of: mostly pop songs, show tunes, a ballad.
“There’s very little pausing,” he said. “There’s three costume changes in 15 minutes. For one of them, the boys had 20 seconds to change. Our closer is from the movie Rio, and there’s a mashup of [songs by] Nat King Cole and ... Dean Martin.”
They do the same four or five songs for each performance.
“We just perfect this 15 minute show. We practice, practice, practice. We started competition in February, and our last competition was this past weekend,” he said.
As for choir and band members themselves, they were ecstatic, even though they arrived back in Ottumwa around 1 a.m. following a three hour drive from Manchester.
Asked if that was an “easy” drive home, Vasconez grinned.
“Yes, it was.”
Note: The original version of this story incorrectly listed the soloist honors. It has been corrected to reflect the results.