Four years ago, the Brown County High School choir program was on its fourth teacher in nearly as many years.
The department consisted of three concert choirs. The concert boys and girls choirs and the varsity show choir, Elegance, did not participate in competitions.
That’s not the case anymore.
Under a new director, the department has blossomed into a group going for gold.
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BC Rhapsody is the new show choir. Students audition for a spot.
This school year, the choir participated in four competitions in Edgewood, Indianapolis, Chesterton and Shelbyville, and finished second runner-up twice and third runner-up once. The choir also won best backup band at the Shelbyville Singing Sensational for the second year in a row.
“The biggest work that went into it was training the kids to understand that they could be achieving at a higher level,” said director Kristi Billings, who came to Brown County High School four years ago from Minnesota. She had been the director of a female choir organization there for six years.
“I think when I got here a lot of them were doing choir because they liked it and it was fun, but didn’t really understand the level of excellence they could be at if they put in the work.
“They don’t come in here anymore and coast. They come in here and really actively work.”
Senior Noah Guinn has been in BC Rhapsody all four years of high school. He has been singing and performing music since he was at least 2 and was in choirs in church and in elementary school.
Guinn has had a front-row seat to watch the high school choir program grow.
“I would describe it as a blessing, just because I know what God has in store for me with music and I should just keep going down that road. But varsity choir just confirmed my belief that there are good people in the world — that there are people who will be there for you and there are people who are doing the exact same thing as you and want to pursue music,” he said.
During his junior and senior years, Guinn was chosen for the Indiana All-State Honor Choir.
He intends to major in music education in college and wants to become a choir teacher.
Guinn said he and the other seniors are leaving the program in good hands.
Junior Leah Tucker has been in BC Rhapsody since she was a freshman and has been singing in choirs since elementary school. For her senior year, Tucker’s goal is to get the top spot at competitions.
“I want to get more trophies than what we have and I want to place better,” she said. “I want this next year to be the year.”
Billings said her students are at a place now where they really can go for the gold.
“With the exception of our first competition, they’ve placed pretty consistently this year, and score-wise, they got better every time. By our last competition, the difference between us and the people placing ahead of us had really shrunken substantially. We were totally on their heels by the end,” she said.
The department still has a girls and a boys concert choir, which do not require auditions and do not participate in competitions.
“Not everybody wants a competitive experience, and that’s totally legitimate. … I want to honor that and foster that,” Billings said.
But the show choir demand has been so high, Billings added a new group last year.
Serenade is an all-girl show choir. More than 20 students tried out for BC Rhapsody than the number that choir could take.
They, too, have grown in just a year.
“The amount of growth in their vocal technique has been huge. They are singing at the place they need to be singing at to be a show choir. This summer they are all going to show choir camp,” Billings said.
Rhapsody and Serenade also participated in the concert choir ISSMA Organizational District Choral Festival competition and received gold ratings in both performance and sight reading. Both groups received perfect scores for sight reading, Billings said.
BC Rhapsody also earned a “with distinction” designation for its ISSMA performance for earning a score under 44 points. A perfect score is 41 points.
”To my knowledge, this is the first time a choral ensemble from BCHS has earned this special designation,” Billings said.
This is sophomore Maddy Westcott’s second year in Rhapsody. She was one of the few freshman to make the show choir.
“I feel it teaches you how to come together as a family with everyone, because there are so many different people in choir and everyone is interested in different things,” she said.
“It’s a really good feeling. I am in a lot of other extracurricular activities and I haven’t felt at home like I do in choir.”
“Choir people are really cool people to be around, so it’s just easy to be yourself around the other choir people instead of having to pretend to be someone else or trying to match another group,” she said.
Along with helping her make friends, Tucker said the choir has taught her to be a better singer, too.
“I definitely have become a stronger singer because I went from, like, never auditioning for solos or anything, to having the lead the past couple performances,” she said.
Billings said the biggest reward she can get as a choir teacher is seeing her students transform into performers.
“I’ve got a few students who walked in freshman year and I really had to work to get them to open up and sing,” she said.
“Now they are in the front row of the show choir singing and dancing their hearts out. Their faces and eyes are just huge and light up.”
The goal for the choir program will be to continue to put out “high-quality shows, high-quality music, high-quality performances” that students can own and be proud of, “so that eventually, they are people who can continue making music for the rest of their lives regardless if it’s professionally or just for fun,” Billings said.
“Hard work is more fun when it’s high quality. I think that is something, too, they have learned.”