Three things have been critical to the inception of Prairie Premiere, Prairie High School’s first show choir competition.
For one, the school’s state-of-the-art facility, which opened in 2009, has been tested. Thousands of high school performers danced and sang on its stage for the annual area Fab Five show choir showcase.
A dedicated and highly organized parent group, and a show choir director with a vision don’t hurt either.
It will be showtime on Jan. 5 when 17 groups take the stage for the school’s inaugural competition. It kicks off the vocal groups’ competition season, which includes seven others between now and March.
The seeds for Prairie Premiere were planted in the aftermath of the Floods of 2008 when the annual Fab Five Showchoir Extravaganza, once held at the U.S. Cellular Center, was looking for a new home. That event, a show choir exhibition featuring five Cedar Rapids-area public high schools, moved to Prairie’s newly built performing arts facility in 2009 and remained there while the Paramount Theatre was being restored. Fab Five returns to the Paramount on Feb. 2, 2013.
It was the experience gained by the Prairie community during the four years it played host to Fab Five, along with a desire to find a new way to showcase the school’s beautiful concert hall, that led to the initial discussions about the school hosting its own event.
Amy Ganske, president of the Prairie Music Association, approached Justin Sands, Prairie’s show choir director, with the idea nearly a year ago.
Sands credits the parent-run group, which supports all music programs in the College Community school district, with doing much of the heavy lifting required to put the event together.
“They’ve really done an awesome job in planning for this big event,” Sands says.
Ganske says Sands’ prior experience at Cedar Rapids Kennedy — he was the associate director of choirs there for seven years before joining Prairie in 2010 — was essential as well.
“He helped organize (Kennedy’s) show choir competition, Raise the Roof, from the ground up,” Ganske says. “He knew how to help a parent organization get it off the ground.”
Planning began before the end of the last school year. Because most show choir directors begin preparing for the next school year before the current year ends, Sands knew he had to start early if they wanted to get Prairie Premiere on other schools’ calendars.
He put the Prairie parents in touch with their counterparts at Kennedy, who helped them develop the basic committee structure. The group formed a steering committee with 10 subcommittees each assigned to different tasks and had the first volunteer meeting in May.
From the early planning discussions, Sands said it would be important for the event to provide a unique experience. Prairie Premiere will offer each participating show choir an extended workshop during which the group will perform and receive an expert critique.
“Our goal is to have each group walk away from Premiere a little bit better than when they came because they have actually rehearsed with a nationally known clinician,” Sands says.
Judging will be handled a little differently, too. Instead of a composite score, each show choir will receive separate scores from visual, vocal, and instrumental judges. Because of the extra time the clinics will take, there will be no finals round. Awards will be based on a single round.
“This is the very first competition of the season,” Sands explains. “We are placing a greater emphasis on the clinics and improving each group’s show than worrying about making finals.”
As show choir tradition dictates, Prairie’s own show choirs, the Ambassadors and Focal Point, will not compete in the event hosted by their school. Instead, the groups will perform in exhibition and participate in the clinics.
The Ambassadors, Prairie’s varsity choir, will perform a show based on “Alice in Wonderland” set to a modern musical arrangement. Sands says he has wanted to do a show based on a known storyline for many years. He and choreographer Chad Alexander started working on the concept last spring, about the same time the Prairie Premiere planning got under way. A production of its nature is something new for the school.
“This is way outside Prairie’s box,” Ganske says. “Traditionally, we have not had big set, big stage productions.”
Sands credits the help of the Prairie parents group in building the sets and even sewing the costumes, which were designed by his wife.
Cheri Brummer, Prairie’s second choir director, and Deron Jimmerson, the instrumental director, also provided invaluable assistance, he says.
Despite the challenges of hosting 3,500 visitors expected on campus on Jan. 5, Ganske says Prairie is ready, thanks to the efforts of the festival committee chairs and 400 volunteers, including parents, students, staff and alumni, who will be on hand to help.
“We hope it’s a learning event for the choirs who come, a positive experience, and a fun day,” Ganske says.
Prairie Premiere will kick off the competitive season for area show choirs. Other competitions this season are:
— Jan. 12: Supernova, 9:22 a.m., Linn-Mar High School, 3111 N. 10th St., Marion, $8 to $15, Linnmarsupernova.org
— Feb. 2: Fab Five Show Choir Extravaganza (featuring Jefferson, Kennedy, Linn-Mar, Prairie and Washington high schools), 2 p.m. (prep) and 7 p.m. (varsity), Paramount Theatre, 123 Third Ave. SE, Cedar Rapids, $15 to $18 at Parmounttheatrecr.com or OrchestraIowa.org, Fabfive.org
— Feb. 9: Touch of Class, Benton Community High School, 303 Fourth Ave., Van Horne, Bentonvocalmusic.com
— Feb. 22 and 23: Raise the Roof, Kennedy High School, 4545 Wenig Rd. NE, Cedar Rapids, Kennedyactivities.com
— March 2: Xtravaganza middle school show choir contest, Xavier High School, 6300 42nd St. NE, Cedar Rapids, Xaviersaints.org
— March 8 and 9: Jefferson Show Choir Invitational, 1243 20th St. SW, Cedar Rapids, Jeffersonperformingarts.com/vocal-music
— March 9: MoShow, Washington High School, 2205 Forest Dr. SE, Cedar Rapids, Washppa.com