I spent my Saturday with some great people; volunteers, people generous with their time, their talents and even their wallets. There were visitors from out-of-state and there were people I have known for a decade, some whom only know me as my son’s mother and I recognize them not by name but by who their child is. I spent twelve hours at a show choir competition, leaving at least six hours before the clean-up crew was out the door.
Though my son graduated a couple of years ago, I, like many of the alumni and alumni parents return to assist with the massive undertaking of hosting multiple choirs and their fans for a day of camaraderie, fun and fierce competition. We do it for the kids, the ones we know and the ones just passing through. For anyone who has never attended a show choir competition I would liken it to a sporting event where a team uses all of their skills, talent and know-how with precision singing, dancing and multiple costume changes and leave the stage exuberant and exhausted, with the hope of being selected to return in a few hours to do it all again with fresh makeup, bouncy curls and crisp looking costumes. It is like a musical magic show where performers who are fatigued, have a bad zipper or argued with a friend must smile and evoke an emotion to the audience that they perhaps are not genuinely feeling.
The logistics are overwhelming; parking, food, shuttles from area parking lots, bus drivers to feed, judges to host, decorations, signage, printed programs, spaces for each choir to have as a home-base, rehearsal space and areas for costumes and props. Even with the parents of current choir participants, NHS members using the event as a volunteer hours opportunity and with alumni, parents, aunts and uncles, the scheduling of over three hundred volunteer shifts is a daunting task. Since competition season takes place in the winter, mid-western show choirs have the added disadvantage of dealing with weather. Yesterday, three choirs from Iowa were competing at Bloomington Gold in Minnesota, with meteorologists suggesting the potential of perhaps a foot of snow coming. With safety being paramount, one of the choirs secured thirty-five hotel rooms as a precaution. Though this competition is really in its infancy with yesterday being the third event, there had been an initial attempt, perhaps a decade earlier that coincided with a blizzard and multiple choirs unable to attend. As one can imagine with just renting equipment, arranging for food and the use of the facility, the weather made the event as much of a financial disappointment as it was an emotional one to the hosts, students and choirs unable to come and compete.
From the very first year, the feedback from participating schools and their guests has been overwhelmingly positive and volunteers are encouraged to offer suggestion to avoid future glitches and allow for fine tuning of the event. I enjoyed several conversations with volunteers yesterday and despite the general goodwill brought to the organization by most folks there continues to be a feeling among some of the show choir parents that despite the mantra that show choir is “a family” that for the shy and least outgoing among parents the issue still exists of some parents not feeling welcomed and “in the know” and others being confused and not included. In other words, among the parents there is the same issues that exist among middle school and high school students. During the four years I participated in the program I volunteered to usher, sell tickets, serve meals, offered up additional money to cover students unable to afford the cost of an unscheduled overnight and purchased a hotel weekend at a silent auction which I gave to the students to gift to their director (knowing many kids had no additional money to contribute to such a gift). During that time I would seek out the parents who seemed confused or sidelined, as though everyone else knew everyone and assured them that though it may seem confusing and that they were an outsider, that was not in fact the case and that their contributions were a value to the group. While attending booster club meetings, I recall others had suggested pairing returning and new families to help eliminate some of that initial confusion and do a better job integrating parents into the program. Multiple current parents confided to me that those same issues exist, sort of a “Mean Girls” mentality among some of the adults, whose children unfortunately go on to model that same behavior. I am glad for the sake of the choir members that the program succeeds in spite of the minor dysfunction. The vast majority of parents and volunteers are selfless and there for the right reasons and their generous spirit models the appropriate behavior to the students. I imagine these same petty issues exist at most schools, where rather than being inclusive, some find an odd power in scarcity of information. Most organizational leaders will attest to the benefits of shared knowledge and inclusion and the positive impact authentic leadership provides.
As a former show choir parent I enjoyed spending the afternoon (after a five-hour shift selling tickets) watching some very talented choirs really entertain the crowds. The awards for the day and the announcement of who would be advancing to the evening round of the competition had to be moved from the auditorium to the gymnasium to accommodate the choirs and the large number of their fans. I love and hate the part of the day when these announcements are made, some are thrilled while others are disappointed. The judging varies and sometimes the most entertaining acts do not advance based on technical merit; the choreography or perhaps vocals were not as challenging. Yesterday was no exception, when Holmen took the People’s Choice Award but did not advance to the evening competition. It’s always hard to see the disappointment, because they all work so hard. Another area high school did not advance to the finals and I had really enjoyed their set and felt that their vocals were awesome!
For some “there is always next weekend”! If my schedule allows, I look forward to volunteering my time again next year. I love the energy, the enthusiasm and enjoy the positive attitudes of the vast majority of volunteers and attendees. With a couple of years distance I can more easily shake my head and be amused, the competition is for the choirs, not the parents! Learn from the kids to smile and look like you are having a good time, that attitude is often the difference between a loser and a winner. At least in the world of show choir.