Glee sparks local show choir interest


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For West High sophomore Matt Drobot, the television show “Glee” helped him discover a new passion.

After seeing the award-winning show, which premièred on Fox in September 2009, he sought out his school’s show choir and signed up.

“It got me interested in show choir,” he said. “I never really knew what it was, but through ‘Glee,’ I was able to get involved.”

That interest was clear on Sunday.

Spectators packed the West High auditorium while Drobot and more than 200 students took the stage for the school’s “Swing into Spring” show. The performance featured high-school and junior-high show choirs singing and dancing to popular tunes.

Boys wore gray tuxedos, and girls donned sparkling purple, pink, and blue dresses. They belted such well-known songs as “Stand By Me” and “Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You.”

The scene wasn’t strikingly different from those featured in “Glee.” Now in its second season, the musical comedy focuses on a high-school teacher and glee-club director determined to help his students reach nationals. The show has earned 19 Emmy nominations, and its songs have been downloaded more than 16 million times.

Since the show first aired, Iowa vocal directors say they’ve noticed an increase in participation in local high-school show choirs.

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Storm Ziegler, the director of the show choir at Kennedy High School in Cedar Rapids, said he’s definitely noticed a “ ‘Glee’ effect.”

“I think the show has caused more awareness in show choir, especially in areas where show choir isn’t as well known,” Ziegler said.

West High music director Ryan Person agreed “Glee” fans, or “gleeks,” as they often call themselves, have had an effect on local show choirs.

In an activity that has typically struggled to attract male participants, he said, the school welcomed 15 additional male singers this year.

“Show choir is a huge time commitment and a lot of hard work,” Person said. “But our kids are up for the challenge, and we love to see them rise up and accomplish their goals.”

At West High, the two show choirs have a combined participation of more than 90 students. The show choir at North Central Junior High School has 52 participants, and Northwest Junior High’s choir has 57 students.

West High senior Jacob Lundin, a participant in “Good Time Company,” one of the school’s show choirs, said he likes the effect “Glee” has had on show choirs.

“I do believe it’s very important to have shows such as ‘Glee’ to get people to understand more about programs like show choir,” he said right after changing out of his performance clothes: a gray suit with a purple vest.

While many directors and students say they’ve seen increased participation since “Glee” started, others aren’t as convinced.

Norm Grimm, the choir director at Newton High, said he hasn’t seen any difference in his show choir.

“The show has nothing to do with real life,” Grimm said. “The one thing that I’ve heard kids talking about that is positive is that they’re hearing established music and not just [radio-style] pop.”

Others say the show doesn’t hold true to the life of a high-school show choir. “Glee” is overly dramatic, some students said, compared with real life.

“It’s a lot more work than ‘Glee’ makes it look,” said West High junior Alex Spragle. “It takes us months to get performances ready, unlike the show, where they do most of it on the spot.”
Ziegler — the Cedar Rapids Kennedy director — agreed the show isn’t realistic.

“Those of us who put shows together know that it takes months and months to put shows together, but the show is much more fast-paced,” he said.

Still, “Glee” is attracting younger generations, said Matt Huth, the show-choir director at Waukee High School.

“I have noticed from talking to directors around the state that when events are hosted for youth there’s larger turnout, which we think is from exposure to the show,” he said.

But Huth said he — and others on the Iowa Choral Directors Association — are also concerned with the reputation “Glee” has given his students.

“I think that it really dumbs down those of us who are in the field,” he said, noting that the show doesn’t correctly portray the demographic of the students who are involved in show choir, either.

“They aren’t shunned students in school,” he said. “Which causes people who are involved to be offended, because they think they are portrayed as outcasts, according to the show.”

But Whitney Duncan, a West High sophomore who participates in the school’s other show choir, “Showtime,” said for many students the allure of being a show-choir member is there, thanks to “Glee.”

“People always come up to me and ask if ‘Glee’ is similar to what I do,” she said. “Once I tell them [it is], they usually end up joining, too.”

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