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Midday Naps and 3 AM Awards: the Choral Classic from a Performer’s Point of View

From midday naps to emotional warm-up rooms to groups performing way past midnight, the performers at the Wheaton Warrenville South Choral Classic had to deal with a lot. For those performers, while the show choir hangover may have hit harder than ever, the experience is one they will cherish for the rest of their lives. Let’s take a look at some stories from several Indiana and Illinois groups that traveled from near and far for this national competition.

Center Grove (Indiana)

Center Grove Sound System performs their opener at Choral Classic (Nathan Ensley)

Center Grove brought their two varsity groups to Wheaton to get their first taste of national competition this season. Their mixed group, Sound System, came in undefeated off a win over local rival Carmel. Still, as senior Hannah Murdick admits, the group was anxious knowing they would be facing Los Alamitos, whose last loss against a non-California group was in 2012.

“I was feeling extremely nervous,” Murdick said. “Los Al is arguably the best show choir in the nation, and going against them was such a scary feeling. I thought beating Los Al was next to impossible going into the weekend.”

Knowing they were in for a long night, Center Grove was one of two schools, along with Los Al, that left the venue in the middle of the day following prelim awards for the single-gender division. The move was strategic for Center Grove, as it allowed them to get some rest for the long night ahead.

“We went back to the hotel for a nap time from around the time univoice prelim awards were announced to a couple hours before our prelims performance,” sophomore Ethan Wood said. “We were well aware that this competition could run late and wanted to make sure we had as much energy as possible [for finals].”

Exiting prelims, Center Grove Sound System was second with every judge having Los Alamitos ahead; however, Sound System was prepared to give it their all in finals. Even as they took the stage at 12:35 a.m. in the morning, this group had so much energy, filling the gymnasium from corner to corner with their brilliant vocal tone. While Sound System recently had many memorable performances, including their finals performance at Franklin Central, Wood believes this may be one of their best.

“I definitely feel like finals at this competition was one of the best, if not THE best performance of our show so far this season,” Wood said. “The show definitely elevated from prelims to finals.”

The group made several changes in finals in response to judges' comments, including changing their second number to include more straight tone to differentiate it from the vibrato prevalent in other sections of their show.

At the end of the night, when all the performances were set and done, it was time to wait and see which one of four incredible finals shows would emerge victorious. It was a nervous wait for Sound System, who had given their hearts out on stage just a little over an hour before and had this competition circled for many months. Sophomore Dhruv Kartik describes the moment that followed.

“My favorite moment had to have been getting announced as grand champions,” Kartik exclaimed. “We all were so happy because this was a competition we were working so hard for throughout this entire year. The way we all rushed on stage, hugging each other, lifting our CM [company manager] up, and being so thrilled that we had beat Los Alamitos Sound FX. The past 2 competitions for us have been so meaningful because we beat a top choir in the state (Carmel Ambassadors) and now have beat a top choir in the nation (Los Alamitos Sound FX).”

The Center Grove Debtones performs in prelims at WWS (Nathan Ensley)

Following a weekend off after the Hoosier Show Choir Classic, the Center Grove Debtones, CG’s varsity girls group, made the long four-hour trip to Wheaton. Junior Kaylee Whitaker explained the group’s excitement leading into the event.

“All of us were so excited to be back competing, since we had taken a weekend off,” Whitaker said. “We were very eager to be there and though our outcome wasn’t what we anticipated, I’m very proud of our group and how we presented ourselves.”

Debtones also benefited from a scheduled nap time in the middle of the day that allowed the group to be fully engaged when they took the stage to open finals in the single-gender division.

While the finals crowd was not as large as the prelims crowd, the crowd was more engaged than ever. Debtones performed less than fifteen minutes after mixed awards were announced, and thus the gym was less than half full, but Whitaker explains how the Debtones fed off of the remaining crowd.

“By far, my favorite part is always the atmosphere and the response we get from the crowd while performing,” Whitaker said. “It’s like a motivational adrenaline rush that drives us to go even harder and be our absolute best!”

While the Debtones were looking for more, a 1st runner-up placement in a highly contested single-gender division is a very respectable result. Whitaker explains that the Debtones left their all on stage, and that’s what really matters.

“I believe that as a group we did the best we could, and that’s all we can do,” Whitaker said. “Losing is never the goal. Using our unanimous love for the art of choir and giving our all to be better is the goal. Growing in the sisterhood will always be better than winning.”

Zionsville (Indiana)

The Zionsville Choralaires hit the final pose of their show at WWS (Nathan Ensley)

Zionsville had been looking forward to Wheaton for several weeks now, with the competition serving as their season finale. For the Choralaires, Zionsville’s girls group, this competition was an incredible opportunity to end on a high note after a slower start. As junior Georgianna Moreland mentioned, the group was also nervous, but focused on continuing their momentum after defeating many mixed groups at South Dearborn last week.

“I was a bit nervous knowing how popular and incredible some of our competition was,” Moreland said. “Although we hadn’t taken a major victory yet in the season, we worked so hard leading up to the competition to put on our best show of the season.”

The Choralaires came out and impressed in prelims, with sweet vocals and a sassy style in their Taylor Swift Eras-themed show. However, the Choralaires then had to wait a grueling twelve hours until their finals run. Moreland explains how the group prepared for their finals run well into the night.

“Choralaires had about 12 hours in between prelims and finals,” Moreland explained. “Some of the main things that I saw within our group was power naps, good food and water, and A LOT of caffeine. Also, the pure adrenaline during awards or when the Royals were performing helped a lot. But, the major push was the goal of winning and putting on our best show!” 

Despite performing so late in the night, Moreland believed that their finals performance might be their best performance of the entire season.

“I think that it was one of our best performances yet,” Moreland said. “We were so mentally focused on hitting every move that though a couple mistakes were made, we all felt incredible about our finals.” 

Following their performance, adrenaline set in, making the rest of the night fly by, remarked Choralaires Junior Savanna Lindsay.

“Everything that happened after midnight was a blur, but finding out that we had not only made it into finals but were grand champions was the most unreal moment of the night,” Lindsay said. “We were all in absolute disbelief that we had won-- we had had a rough season at first, but this was a comeback that I think a lot of us will remember for a long time!”

Zionsville Choralaires celebrate their grand championship in the large single-gender division at WWS (Nathan Ensley)

For the Zionsville Royalaires, this competition was about making some final memories on and off stage in what was a wild time at Wheaton. Ahead of the group’s finals performance, it took a moment to embrace in the warmup room, Senior Mackenna Morehead recalls.

“Since we weren’t allowed to play our hype song before we went on for finals, our combo started playing it as we were walking into warm-ups, and we just got to go crazy, screaming and jumping and hugging each other in a huge clump,” Morehead said. “Even though it was one in the morning and we were so tired, our directors told us our only goal for the performance should be to have the most fun, and I think we definitely did. That’s probably my favorite show choir memory ever.”

Zionsville Royalaires perform their opener at WWS (Nathan Ensley)

The Royalaires finally took the stage at 1:52 a.m., but with daylight savings time looming, the group concluded their show at 3:09 a.m., which made this group of Royalaires arguably the first show choir group to perform past 3:00 a.m. at a competition.

“Finals obviously made us the first group of Royalaires to perform at 3 a.m., so everybody’s voices were tired,” Morehead explains. “But it was still the most fun we’ve had yet with our show and I hope that energy fed the audience too. We loved getting to close the competition!”

For Royalaires Senior Matthew Orbaugh, a 3 a.m. performance was not what he had in mind for his final competitive performance, but he would not have it any other way. 

“Performing at 3 a.m. was probably the most interesting way to end off my show choir experience, but honestly the energy was so fun,” Orbaugh said. “None of us even cared if we won or lost. It was just so fun getting to go let it all loose one last time. Once we all walked off the stage, so many of us just went in for hugs, and had smiles from ear to ear. Was it our best run ever? No. Did we care? Also no. It was just so much fun and truly showed the family aspect of what Royalaires is.”

El Paso-Gridley (Illinois)

El Paso-Gridley Modulations performs at WWS (Nathan Ensley)

El Paso-Gridley walked entered this competition as one of the smallest schools competing. The school has less than 400 students enrolled, which is much less than the thousands enrolled of their competitors. Modulations senior Haylee Barnard was both nervous and excited leading into this event.

“I was nervous coming into this competition because EPG Modulations comes from a very small Illinois town, and we were definitely intimidated walking into a competition with groups from schools with 2,000-plus students,” Barnard said. “We were also excited to see how we could match up against schools that large and were happy to receive some praise while doing it.”

Since El Paso-Gridley is a very small school, there are many doublers between their mixed group and single-gender group. One of those doublers, senior Ainsley Schnell, explained how she ensured she was ready to perform a second time, taking the stage in a high-energy Modulations show.

“After Hi Fidelity performed at 8:45, I made sure to drink plenty of fluids so I was ready for Modulations at 3:30,” Schnell said. “Luckily neither of my groups performed late in the night.”

For Schnell, her favorite moment was getting to watch some of the best groups in the nation perform.

“I absolutely loved watching other groups perform,” Schnell said. “Los Alamitos, Center Grove, and Zionsville were incredible! Coming from a small school with a small budget, it was really exciting to watch some of the top dogs of show choir!”

For Modulations senior Hunter Henderson, this competition was about giving glory to God and sharing the gospel to the Wheaton crowd.

“Our group focuses on giving the glory to God through prayer, Bible studies, and the message of the Gospel in our show,” Henderson said. “We hope and pray at each competition that we reach the hearts of our audiences, and we believe we did just that at WWS Choral Classic.”

El Paso-Gridley Modulations hits their final pose in their closer (Nathan Ensley)

El Paso-Gridley was extremely pleased with their performance as three judges had Modulations in the top four visually. Schnell hopes that this will provide the group with some much-needed positive momentum into their last competition of the season at the Herscher Swing & Sing, where they will face many of their local rivals.

“This was the absolute best Modulations had ever done,” Schnell explained. “We made a LOT of changes the last week and they all worked out well. At this time, most years we are at our peak, but I am not ready to become complacent. I want to improve as a group this week so that this weekend, when we go against our rivals, we can finally surpass them!!”

Wheaton Warrenville South will be a competition that these young performers will remember for a long time. Having some of the best groups in the nation all performing in one venue is a treat like no other. The atmosphere was electric, and the performances themselves were even better. As these groups close out their seasons in the coming week, Wheaton Warrenville South will hold a special place as the wild national competition that captured every emotion.

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