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Staff Says: Show Choir's Overachievers

Nestled along Interstate 39 in central Illinois, El Paso-Gridley consistently redefines what it means to be a small-school show choir. Photo: Nathan Ensley /

One of the intricacies of show choir is just how many definitions of something there is. Division alignment? Try any number of ways to sort that out. What should a set include? That changes by the season, if not by the month during each season. However, one thing that has remained constant in the show choir world is that some groups continue to punch above their weight. From the textbook example of Arthur, Illinois, in the 1990s all the way through to today, there are plenty of examples of choirs who despite their size, available pool of students, or other constraints, continue to impress. What follows are a few groups that the HomeRoom staff chose to highlight.

William Soquet: The Mayville Cardinal Singers have been a fixture of the Wisconsin show choir scene for over 30 years and it looks like they will continue to be for many more. With a school enrollment of about 375 students for grades 9-12, it would be totally understandable if Mayville would be putting out choirs of only a dozen or so kids. Instead, Cardinal Singers continues to produce large groups every year and is a regular finals contender, advancing to the evening round four times in 2024. All of this is even more remarkable when it is considered that Mayville survived a consolidation attempt with nearby Horicon in the mid-2010s, which could have meant the end of show choir at the school. Program alum John Dobbratz is director and fellow alum Isabelle Sabby is choreographer, meaning that it is a totally homegrown affair right now.

Simon Zimmerman: I have to give a shoutout to Kentucky’s only competitive program and one of the smallest groups that I have ever seen: West Jessamine. For starters, despite having (at my last estimation) fewer than 30 students in the entire program, West Jessamine has two competitive groups, Dually Noted (the mixed group) and Fortissima (the womens group). In the past couple of years, Dually Noted has managed to beat several good small groups (including Benjamin Logan, Elgin, Milton Union, Anderson, and Middletown) that are over twice their size, and have held their own with groups like Ada, Teays Valley, and Norwood that are around three times their size, taking home two division wins in four tries. Fortissima hasn’t had the same amount of success, largely due to the absence of a small womens division at most competitions, but has still managed to be successful. With an inaugural Bluegrass competition ahead in 2025, as well as their continuing success in Midwestern states, they are surely a group to watch over the coming years. 

Chris Mendoza: Hart Sound Vibrations have been overachieving every year since the pandemic considering their size. The group typically has participation in the low 20s, but has consistently put up signature wins against much larger groups. Their top-notch showmanship makes them a contender at every comp they visit, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon!

Nathan Ensley: Located in the small central Illinois town of El Paso, El Paso-Gridley is a group that frequently contends closely with the top Illinois groups. While their school’s enrollment is less than 400 students, their mixed group Modulations fields around fifty performers and earned grand championships at three of their seven competitions this year over schools with enrollments well over a thousand. The group’s energized singing and fast-paced choreography gives way to powerful dance breaks that make their performances can’t-miss spectacles. With an award-winning middle school program that took two grand championships this past year, El Paso-Gridley is a program that will continue challenging the best of the best in Illinois and across the nation in spite of its school size.

Arte Reed: Just south of Lincoln in the small town of Firth, Neb., Norris High School continues to have an excellent show choir program despite its school population being around 700 students. Gold has performed well within the last few years, earning multiple finals placements against schools with a bigger population than them. They achieved a grand championship this year at Lincoln Northwest, where they were up against Grand Island Northwest - yet another group with high standings in Nebraska. During the 2023 season, Gold earned third place during FAME Show Choir Nationals which is impressive regarding the teams they were up against. Norris will continue to grow as a team and will be a challenge to both as Nebraska and out of state teams. 

A.J. Prentice: While Varsity Singers from Huntington North High School are on the larger side for the small division, since the end of the 2023 season they've proven their ability to stand up to groups much larger than them. Varsity Singers took a big win at Homestead over Carroll, a big Fort Wayne school, and also beat large Indianapolis-area school Avon later in the season.

Wren Millick: Located in the northeast region of Indiana, Norwell High School is home to two competitive show choirs. Their mixed group, Knight Moves, is known around Indiana for their small yet powerful size. This past year, they competed with just 13 students in their choir. Norwell’s single-gender group is named Knight Stars and they competed with 12! Every year, both of Norwell’s choirs put on original and interesting story-like shows that are always paired with fantastic choreography and intricate vocals. Although Norwell’s record isn’t the best from contest to contest, their shows are consistently some of the best on stage. Because of their extremely small size, judges often score them generally lower than other groups, resulting in their lower placements. Even if Norwell isn’t placing at the top of their division, they are definitely a school to look out for. Their professionalism and love for what they do shines brighter than any other school in the state.

Ava Sammons: Des Moines Christian Light, Inc. continues to be one of the top small school programs in the state of Iowa. Despite their school having a 9-12 enrollment of just 266 students, they boast two robust choirs who continue to impress judges season after season. Light, Inc. consistently sweeps lower divisions in competitions, making finals and placing well against programs from 4A schools. This past season, DMC was undefeated in daytime competition, whether it be in overall mixed competitions or 2A/3A divisions. Additionally, they achieved two grand championships, winning at Indianola and Atlantic. Their remarkable vocals and showmanship have certainly made them a favorite of fans and judges alike!


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