The Showcase Will Go On

Frederick’s Varsity Blue choir brings back its annual showcase, despite some hiccups along the way


Julissa Solorzano

Junior Justin Valois performs a number with junior Grace Vigil while sophomores Emery Ishmael, Cirisa Engdahl, and Leea Beeker singing backup behind them as they rehearse for this year’s Varsity Blue showcase. The group is coming out of the shadow of the pandemic, which negatively impacted their performances for the past two years, to put on a showcase this Friday at 7 PM.

Vocal performance isn’t always the showiest of the arts. As Josh Bailey covered in his article about All-State Choir, vocal performance is mostly about technical ability to match pitch with others, both read music and sing back by ear, and master very specific vocal techniques. Choirs stand on risers in a straight position that allows for good breath support and focus on looking uniform. It’s always phenomenal but not that showy.

Unless we’re talking about show choir.

Frederick’s Varsity Blue combines singing and dancing to create thrilling and theatrical performances. Unlike traditional choir, Varsity Blue performs with costumes, small sets, and dynamic colored lighting. The choir also sings more modern songs that students and parents know. If you have seen the show Glee, it’s a lot like that.

“This year, we have three large group songs with everybody: ‘The Longest Time,’ ‘Surf Crazy’ from Teen Beach Movie, and ‘Memories’ by Maroon 5. Other than that, the showcase is a combination of large group numbers and small group numbers. Some are radio songs and some are from musicals: we will perform Hairspray and Hamilton this year,” said sophomore Peyton Siders.

While performing these numbers may sound like they would be easier than standing straight in a traditional choir, it isn’t. Varsity Blue members have to master singing while dancing, all while not running out of breath. They sometimes don’t have sheet music and have to learn songs and their harmonies just by listening. They also perform to a track instead of a piano accompanist, which means they cannot slow down or speed up a song’s tempo to make it easier to sing.

“Varsity Blue challenges us a little more. We don’t do the classical choir songs with the piano accompanying us. We like to keep it upbeat and use tracks.” said junior Giada DeJulio.

Varsity Blue also allows more control from the students than the average choir. The students decide what songs they want to perform by a majority vote. It is a process of weeks to even decide the theme to be performed, but they all come together on an agreement to decide the songs for each performance.

“We sit down for a couple of months before a performance and brainstorm ideas,” saic sophomore Nic Aasmunstad. “There’s usually a selection process, with people narrowing it down based on voting. It’s mostly majority rules, in a lot of cases.” Of course, choral director Kevin Brown has the right to veto songs that may be too mature for the all-ages concert or songs that fall outside the district’s BMI license. However, students are usually so good at picking songs appropriate to their voices and audiences that he doesn’t really step in.

More than just singing, Varsity Blue requires dancing, giving students the opportunity to learn different styles of dance and physical performance. Just as the choir picks its own songs, they choreograph their own numbers. DeJulio is one of the main choreographers for the group and really enjoys staging the songs.

“I’ve been dancing for ten years, so I have a lot of dance experience,” she said. “Not everyone in the choir is as experienced,  so I kinda work with what I have. I look up YouTube videos and get inspiration from those. As for teaching I just show them and they kinda catch on with it.”

Perhaps the biggest challenge to the show choir has nothing to do with voice or dance: it’s trust. In order to work together so closely and rely on one another so much, the members of Varsity Blue spend a lot of time building trust and building friendships… which is why Varsity Blue really dislikes being compared to Glee.

“Yes, we do signing and dancing numbers just like Glee,” DeJulio told us. “But Glee is also a TV show with a lot of scripted drama. We keep the drama out of the department. We’re all best friends and we kinda just love each other.”

These relationships have supported these choir members through a couple of years of delayed shows and canceled events due to the pandemic. Their showcase this year was even delayed by a week so it wouldn’t conflict with the Boys Basketball Final Four game in Denver. Fortunately, the members of Varsity Blue are flexible and very supportive of Frederick. This year, they have helped the theatre department get the play ready to perform and helped Student Council by delivering singing Valentines on February 14. The choir believes that singing and dancing are just the second things that they do best: what they really do best is build relationships across the school.”

“It’s all about relationships,” DeJulio told us. “When you are singing and dancing with people, you need trust because you have to rely on people to pick you up or make sure not to drop someone when you pick them up. So it’s not really about becoming better singers and dancers– it’s about relationships.”