A show choir (originally known as a "swing choir") is a group of people who combine choral singing with dance, sometimes within the context of a specific idea or story.
Show choir is primarily a high school activity based in the United States. It is a continually evolving art form, however, and show choir is regularly expanding to new areas. Many middle schools, junior high schools, and some colleges now have their own show choirs as well.
While there is no standard requirement for the number of performers, show choirs typically contain between 30 and 60 singer/dancers.
Show choirs traditionally wear a costume, though the definition of what is considered a costume in show choir is very broad and ranges from jeans and a t-shirt to extravagant period costumes or flashy dance-wear. It can be very conservative (such as tuxedos and ball gowns) or very edgy (such as modern or revealing clothing). Additionally, many larger show choirs include two or more costumes in their show. Participants typically wear stage makeup and shoes conducive to dancing (often "character shoes"). From the costumes to the stage makeup, show choir members often look uniform during most shows.
The choir usually has a backup band (or "combo," if it includes horns) providing instrumental music to complement the voices. The instrumentation varies from song to song, but a common show choir band consists of guitar, bass, drums, trumpets, trombone, alto sax, tenor sax, piano, and synthesizer. Many larger show choirs typically have a larger combo to accompany them. The band is usually out of sight, however some band members have come out on stage to be featured during the show.
Many show choirs participate in competitions, sometimes called "invitationals" (though most are not invitation-only events). These competitions are often held at the high school where the "host group" attends, though some events are held at auditoriums or other facilities that can accommodate larger crowds and provide better acoustic performance.
Competitions can be as small as a showcase of a few groups from the immediate geographic area or they can feature many groups from multiple states. Because of the vast difference in sizes of the competitions, they can last a single afternoon or span an entire weekend. Competitions may separate competing choirs into different divisions. These divisions are often determined by age, skill level, size of the school or choir, and/or gender of the participants. The different divisions may take place at a different time, day, or at a different location or venue, though usually within the same school or close geographic area.
Many competitions include a preliminary round and a finals found. The finals round commences after the preliminary awards are complete, where the top groups perform again in order to compete for the title of Grand Champion of the contest. The number of performing groups in the finals round is up to the hosting school, but typically 5-6 choirs participate. Those groups are given the opportunity to take suggestions from the judges made during the preliminary round and make adjustments to their finals performance in order to earn a better score.
Characteristics of a performance
Most show choir "shows" or "sets" consist of a variety of songs, often including several choreographed, fast-paced pieces and one slower piece performed with limited or no choreography. This slower number—usually a ballad—exists primarily to showcase the ensemble's singing ability. In California, it is a requirement that at least one minute of any one set be sung a cappella (it is usually one full song in the set), though this is not a standard in the rest of the country. More often than not, the a cappella selection is also the ballad, as it is much easier to sing unaccompanied while holding relatively still. In the Midwest, it is becoming popular to set one song aside as a "novelty" piece, designed to make the audience laugh. "Concept" or "story" shows that unify all of the songs together in a common theme are becoming more popular across the country, especially in California.
Within a song, vocal lines typically alternate between unison or octave singing, and two-or-more-part polyphonic harmony. Songs are chosen, adapted, and arranged from a variety of sources including popular music, jazz standards, and Broadway musicals, but rarely make use of classical music. Original music has also been performed by a small number of groups. Additionally, there is often at least one solo in each performance by a standout singer in the group.
Competitive performance sets range in length, but are usually timed to total between fifteen and twenty minutes. Shows generally consist of, but are not limited to, approximately five songs.
For many high school students, show choir is a large commitment that takes over the good part of a school year. For some, show choir is part of the school curriculum and is a class taught during the day. For others, it is an extra curricular activity that requires practice to take place before or after school. Practices may begin as early as the summer for some, while other choirs don’t start until much later. The competitive season takes place from January until late April, with competitions held across the country every weekend during that time.
Show choir, while time consuming, can be rich with rewards. Being a part of a show choir promotes teamwork and healthy competition. The choir must work together like a well oiled machine in order to compete against other choirs with similar skill sets. Show choir also promotes staying active and fit. Vigorous dancing and singing simultaneously requires energy and coordination as well as a maintaining a healthy body.