The Ottumwa Courier

March 11, 2014

Confidence on stage, humility off stage

Courier staff writer

---- — OTTUMWA — The seniors in Sudden Impact! are just beginning to realize that they only have two show choir competitions left in their high school career.

If the last two are as successful as the first two have been, it's going to be an exciting journey to the end of the season.

"Music as competition brings out something in you. You put forth this whole effort, and there's a sense of accomplishment, like 'You've made it!' It makes it worthwhile when you put forth all of that effort individually and as a group," said Brandon "Lee" Hankins, one of the show choirs seniors.

The show choir competition season for OHS began on Feb. 22 in Indianola, where Sudden Impact! placed first. Last weekend in Ft. Madison, they were named third runner-up out of 19 schools.

Madalynn McKelvey was named Best Female Vocalist of the day at both competitions OHS has been in this year.

"The fact that we obtain that sense of accomplishment while creating art with other people is incredible," she said. "I've been doing this for four years, and I love it."

In Iowa, schools send invitations when they host their competitions. Anyone who wants to attend can RSVP, thereby setting their own competition schedule for the year. This weekend, Sudden Impact! will travel to Cedar Rapids, Washington and then to West Deleware in Manchester after that.

"I love going to competitions and spending so much time with everyone. It's like a big family," Abbie Budan described.

The daytime competition is within the class, then the top five or six schools compete against each other, regardless of which class they're in.

"We put as much effort, if not more, into it now because there's still a long way to go. You never reach your peak," Caleb Copple said.

In its 12th year at Ottumwa High School, the show choir was started by vocal instructor Dennis Vasconez and his wife Melissa. This opportunity was one of the reasons he took the position.

"Iowa has a very large show choir base," he said. "Music in Iowa is very important, and those who excel are held in high regard. Iowa was one of the first states west of the Mississippi to hold show choir competitions."

At OHS, the show choir auditions students in just the second week of school and they begin working on music. The choreographer, Ben Schrank of Davenport, comes to the school three or four times to work on choreography.

"They'll rehearse with him for five to six hours. On early-out days, they come and stay when the other kids go home. They're so dedicated," Vasconez said.

During the season, the show choir rehearses twice a week, once at 6:30 a.m. and once in the evening.

"There aren't enough class periods in the day for everything," Jill Ardueser explained. "If we didn't have those rehearsals before and after school, we wouldn't have a show choir, we wouldn't have the skill that we have now."

"I feel like you have to have flexible schedule. There are times when we can't always be there, but as long as we're there, we try hard," Sarah Kearney added.

Spending this much time together, especially at this early hour, has drawn the group together. Now when they step on the stage to compete, there is no question how they'll perform together.

"I have so much confidence in us," Courtney Burgess said. "We're like a family after this much time together. We believe in each other."

Members of the group come from many different musical backgrounds. While some have been active in band or choir from an early age, some have only begun to discover their talents — and passions.

"I didn't take vocal music my freshman year, but I took Preludes my sophomore year. They talked me into auditioning for show choir," said Marcus O'Brien. "Now I'm in my third year, and it's been a blast. I wouldn't change it for the world."

At the end of the last school year, Sudden Impact! lost 16 senior boys to graduation. Finding replacements meant refilling half the spots in the choir with new people.

"I was the guitarist last year (for Sudden Impact!), and I really enjoyed it. I just joined Meistersingers this year and the show choir needed guys, so I auditioned," said Dylan Miller.

They will be in the same situation next year as several senior girls will have graduated.

"First, they become a better musician and performer. They're pushing our program to do better in other things, too," Vasconez said. "And I want them to be part of something bigger than themselves, to get out of the community and see what's out there."