The stars have arrived

Ashley Smith · Tuesday, February 7, 2017
Over 1,600 students, parents and community members filled West Liberty High School on Saturday, Feb. 4, for Stars On Stage, West Liberty’s annual show choir competition.

In all 13 show choirs from 9 different schools competed throughout the morning and afternoon to earn the opportunity to perform at the evening finals.

The daylong event is the primary fundraiser for the West Liberty High School Fine Arts Boosters club, which pays for many expenses of the high school choir, band and theatre departments throughout the year.

Profits are earned from ticket sales, concessions, and entry fees paid by participating choirs.

“We brought in over $28,000,” said West Liberty Sho Choir Director Nathan Shivers. “We usually spend between $10,000 and $11,500 in expenses to run the day.”

Benton Community’s show choir, Celebration Co., earned Grand Champion at Finals this year, as well as the caption award for Best Vocals.

Skutt Catholic’s Vivace from Omaha, Neb., placed first runner up and received the Best Choreography award. They were followed by choirs from Keokuk, Pella and Center Point-Urbana.

As the host, West Liberty’s show choir Voices Unlimited performed an exhibition at the end of the day.

A new element added to this year’s Stars On Stage was a food and clothing drive,

The drive encouraged students and audience members to donate non-perishable food, gently-used winter clothing, or personal hygiene products like toothpaste and shampoo.

Director Shivers said that the idea to hold a food drive came from the theme of this year’s Voices Unlimited show, which is based on the madness of the world.

“We have had many discussions about how no matter what you think of government, you can make a difference with the people around you,” he said.

Participants from each school made donations to a box labeled with their choir’s name. Donations were counted before the daytime awards, the school that donated the most items received the People’s Choice award.

“Skutt Catholic High School brought the most at over 800 items to donate to our community food bank,” said Director Shivers.

“There were monetary donations made as well as clothing and food. We are so excited to give back into our community in this way,” he added.

All for the music

In addition to raising money for high school fine arts programs, Stars On Stage places emphasis on music education and musical growth.

Careful selection of judges for the competition can help keep the students focused on learning and improving, rather than winning or losing, said Shivers.

“All of the judges are music teachers, which is really important to me,” said Shivers. “I want the music to be a vital part of the day.”

During the Daytime competition, each choir receives a critique session with a judge immediately following their performance.

“The judges give advice from their perspective on improvements that could be made to the show and a way to take the kids to the next level of performing,” said Shivers.

Choirs also receive written and verbal comments from three more judges, who score them on everything including vocal technique, projection of facial expression, and usage of costuming and props.

Each Stars On Stage takes nearly a full year to plan, said Shivers.

“It all starts in April of the year before, when schools tell me they are interested in attending,” he said.

“In the fall, I send registrations to the groups, find five judges, get a quote for renting the stage, and make sure we are properly sanctioned by the Iowa High School Music Association.”

Volunteer coordinators recruit West Liberty parents to help in shifts throughout the day, and a parent food committee takes care of menu planning and securing donations for the concession stand.

Putting on the show

This year, the Stars On Stage menu featured items including breakfast burritos, turkey tenderloin sandwiches and homemade lasagna.

The day before the competition, students and parent volunteers spend about 12 hours preparing the school to host so many visitors.

“Students set up a rented stage in the gymnasium, clean the auditorium, move everything out of the band and choir rooms, and decorate the halls and commons,” said Shivers.

Extra tables and chairs are brought in from the county fairgrounds and local fire department.

“We have parents – Al Mather and Tim Nichols – who put up lights in the gym, and Ramon Partida, who installs his sound system and volunteers his time for the entire competition,” said Shivers.

Visiting choirs are each assigned a classroom to use throughout the day as a home room.

The day before the competition, West Liberty students work in groups to decorate each room in a creative theme, and an adult volunteer chooses first, second and third place winners for the best-decorated rooms.

The first-place winners of this year’s room decorating contest were Trevor Meyers, Tatum Dickey and Jack Baker, who created a Medieval Castle theme using both theatrical props and custom-painted furniture.

Show choir itself is an aspect of music education that developed from Broadway-style performances, explained Shivers. “It involves singing, dancing, expressing emotion, and telling a story to the audience.”

Many show choir performances are thematic in some way, and include five different songs.

“Most shows start with something that grabs the attention of the audience, then move to a second song of contrasting style in some way to keep the audience interested,” said Shivers.

“Next is usually the ballad, or the slow song to show off the vocal ability of the ensemble. The fourth song is sometimes a guys and girls number, a funny novelty piece, or a quick-hitting song that allows for some kind of costume change,” he said. The last song in a show choir performance, called the closer, is almost always fast-paced and energetic.

According to Shivers, this year’s Stars on Stage was the smoothest it has ever gone since he began working in the district.

“The parents have concessions, volunteers and decorations down to a science. The students did exactly what they needed to do and worked together efficiently,” he said.

“Our superintendent, principal, assistant principal and many other employees helped out and people from other schools have a very positive experience in our town,” said Shivers. “It was a great day to be a part of the West Liberty Community School District.”
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