De Pere is the destination for show choirs next week
By Janelle Fisher
City Pages Editor
Competition season has begun for show choirs across the state, and De Pere High School’s two show choirs, led by Choral Director Anne Marie Cummings, are preparing to host their annual competition, Destination De Pere, next Saturday, Feb. 4.
Cummings said the competition, which involves 18 groups from high schools around Wisconsin and is open for the public to attend, provides an outlet to showcase students interested in the performing arts.
“The parent group that came around to plan it just has so much passion to showcase our performing Redbirds,” she said. “In De Pere, we already have great athletic programs and really smart kids that do well at academic decathlons and mock trials and all that stuff. Here, we finally get to showcase our performing Redbirds and the pride that was behind this makes it such a great event.”
Cummings said that since starting the competition in 2019, it has quickly become a smooth-running event thanks to the many parents and community members who volunteer.
“We had multiple schools tell us last year and that first year that this is the best competition they go to,” she said. “We’re kind of the only competition that runs on time. We’ve got this backstage dad crew that makes sure we’re running on time back there. It’s kind of become a well-oiled machine and it’s a huge sense of pride for the De Pere community.”
And a sense of pride is exactly what it should be, as Cummings described the amount of work and dedication students put into show choir.
“I always tell people that show choir is like a musical on steroids,” she said. “You’ve got all the aspects of a musical. You have your pit band, which is what we call show band — live musicians playing to accompany [the choir]. Instead of a two-hour show, you have a 20-minute show usually centered around some kind of theme. It’s like a musical on steroids because they’re dancing the whole time. Instead of having a dance number and then a soloist or something like that or some dialogue, you just start dancing the whole time. It’s like running a marathon.”
Each year, the groups’ performances are centered around a different theme. Cummings said this year’s theme is top-secret, literally.
“I love this year’s set,” she said. “I picked 007, or James Bond. So all of our songs have something to do with James Bond. So some of the songs are from the movies — two of them are “No Time to Die” and “Live and Let Die” — and some are just kind of about spies or about going on a mission or things like that.”
The set is based on a different theme each year, and Cummings said De Pere has had some exciting themes in the past.
“In the past, we’ve done like a cold and hot theme, so some of those songs were ‘Hazy Shade of Winter,’ ‘Ice Ice Baby’ and then for the hot side of it we did ‘Hot Hot Hot’ and ‘Havana,’” she said. “Last year’s theme was just centered around time, so all of our songs had something to do with the past or the future. I really liked this set we were kind of infamous for. Years ago, we did this set that was a travel theme and we did ‘Bicycle’ by Queen and we had a slow-motion bicycle race on these tricycles that was really funny. So we’ve had some really, really fun themes throughout the years.”
Regardless of the theme, Cummings said she likes to pick songs from a variety of genres to make sure there’s something in the set for everyone to enjoy.
“We at De Pere really like to do a little bit of all genres,” she said. “So we’ll use musical theater, we’ll use country, we’ll use pop music. We do a whole gamut of music. We love doing classic rock songs too. Our goal is that at some point in the show, someone in the audience will recognize a song. At least, that’s one of my goals because I don’t like when I go and I don’t know any of the songs. So hopefully we’ve connected with someone in the audience at some point in our set — even grandma.”
The array of music is one of the things show band member Levi Radue said is something he enjoys most about being a part of the group.
“We play all sorts of rock music, pop music and stuff like that,” he said. “There’s not really any other outlets to play that style of music.”
De Pere’s first show choir got its start around 1995, and Cummings said that even through some structural changes, leadership changes and a pandemic, interest and participation in the group has remained high.
Many of the students in the show choirs at De Pere now, in fact, are there because they saw how much the members who came before them enjoyed it.
“A lot of the alumni or veterans, they talk about it and they say how fun it is and then you want to join,” Radue said.
For some current members, including seniors Josh Hodgdon, Aria Kiedinger, who joined as freshman after seeing their older siblings go through the program.
“For me, it was my brother,” Hodgdon said. “He was involved in the Jam Session band as well and he is two years older than me, so he was already in it and that kind of introduced it to me. I’ve wanted to be in the band ever since then.”
“I joined because of my older sister,” Kiedinger said. “She was in Jam Session two years ahead of me and I didn’t know it existed until she joined. I just looked up to everybody that was in the group so much and watching them at competitions just made me want to be a part of that.”
What’s kept them coming back, though, is not the family that came before them but rather the family they’ve found within the choirs.
“When I first came to the high school, when I was a freshman, I was super scared of everything,” Cienna Delos Santos, a senior in the group who had six older siblings participate in show choir, said. “I was super scared of everything. I was so lost. I didn’t know what was going to happen. And my safe place was really the choir and Jam Session. I also made a majority of my friends here, so it’s just always kind of been a safe place for me.”
“Jam Session was really the only club that I joined in school and it really helped me come into myself as a person,” said senior Cooper Buchholz, who also joined as a freshman after watching his older siblings participate.
“I’ve stayed a part of Jam Session just for the family aspect of it,” Kiedinger said. “A majority of my friends I met through Jam Session so it’s just very familiar and very comforting to come to this group every year and just be a part of a team with them.”