What Makes Valley Show Choir So Special? The Unbreakable Commitment Made By Many

Erica Weeklund believes Valley Show Choir helped her son find his way once in high school.

Molly Breedlove says the program has become “like a second family” for her freshman and senior.

And Jamie Nieman knows her stepdaughter loves everything about show choir: “I think it’s one of her favorite things about her high school experience.”

But what makes it so special? It’s simple, really: An unbreakable camaraderie and commitment across all levels and walks of life.

You’ll soon learn how.

‘It’s Magic On Stage’

The 2020 show choir season has wrapped up. Led by directors Haley Gibbons, Nicole McBride, and Chloe McCartney as well as show choir band director Anthony Cravero, Choralation—Valley’s varsity show choir program—was the grand champion at its final competition March 6-7 at Jefferson High School in Cedar Rapids. The squad also earned best choreography honors.

In the prep division at the Cedar Rapids Jefferson contest, Ignition brought home a bevy of accolades to go along with its championship-winning performance: best vocals, best choreography, and people's choice. The band was also named best band.

Prior to Cedar Rapids Jefferson, Choralation claimed first place Feb. 15 at the Keokuk Power City Classic. The squad also captured best vocals and best band honors. Ignition captured first-place honors in the prep division at Keokuk. The band again was named best band.

Additionally, senior Eric Amundson sweeped the field as a four-time best soloist at every competition Choralation participated in this season. That’s a feat Gibbons said she’s never had happen during the eight years she’s been in charge.

“I love watching them,” Nieman said. “They put in so much time and effort, and their enthusiasm shows when they perform."

Spectating amongst the masses, Weeklund said “there is an absolute rush of energy and pride when you see your child’s choir completely nail their set.”

“Their faces radiate joy, and it just gets you in your core,” she explained. “It's been so much fun to see them constantly improve throughout the year. When their dance moves are clean, their voices blend perfectly and they just bring it.

“It's magic on stage.”

Valley senior Eric Amundson was named best vocalist at all four of Choralation's competitions this show choir season.

A similar testament is true for Katie Rathe, whose freshman is just getting started with Valley Show Choir. Rathe has a different perspective than most other parents; she’s a fellow show choir director in the Des Moines Public Schools. Rathe also student-taught at Valley in 2001.

Since then, she’s seen Valley’s program go from up-and-comer to bar-setter.

“We hold ourselves to the standard of ‘what would Valley do?’” Rathe said.

For the Keokuk contest, Rathe was able to ride the bus with her daughter. Throughout the morning, she wore the cap as a show choir mom. But once her school arrived to the competition, Rathe had to switch roles.

“I have a totally different perspective of what show choir is and I’m seeing it from her angle,” she said. “I’m just trying to enjoy the experience now being a parent.”

It Takes A (Valley) Village

The show choir lifestyle is close to a near 24/7 operation, parents say.

“Those competition days are so long,” Rathe said. “There's always something where a parent is needed to step in for.”

Nieman said dozens of parents each year rally together to help fill voids and tackle certain tasks and responsibilities. From rehearsals to sewing costumes, and early morning bus trips at faraway competitions to setting up stages, everybody plays a part.

“Show choir is a very expensive thing to do,” she explained. “This year, I saw an even greater amount of parents that were really engaged to get others engaged. There's been a very conservative effort to bring on new freshman and sophomore parents to get them involved and let them know what they could expect. And the parents this year really stepped up their game with fundraising and volunteering.”

A big shoutout, though, is certainly needed for the “Wing Nuts”—the stage dads. Breedlove said this “amazing group unloads and loads all of the risers” that are needed at every competition.

And at the top of it all—the leaders of the pack: Valley Show Choir directors and choreographers. They deserve the most praise, Nieman said.

“The directors and choreographers and all those involved in preparing our children, I don't think they get enough credit for the effort and energy they put into it. They're working long hours to mold our kids into the adults they'll become."

It’s a commitment, a very large one at that. But oh so worth it.

“They see that hard work pays off,” Weeklund said of fellow parents and students. “They learn the value of being on a team, of each person playing a role that will be missed if they don't show up. The crew, the band, the moms who are repairing ripped seams, the dads who drive the equipment truck.

“I think the kids truly understand that they are one cog in a very complex wheel.”

A Final Performance, Together

On Wednesday, March 11, Ignition, Choralation, and the show choir band gathered inside the Staplin Performing Arts Center for one last performance. It was a hoorah to cap off yet another exceptional season on the stage, welcomed by the thunderous applause and hollers from hundreds of family and friends there to watch.

“Man, this year has been great,” Breedlove said. “They had a very successful show choir season. This is such a small group, it’s a different kind of bond. … It gives them pride in their school, and in return gives them pride in their education.”

Many others, like Nieman, can’t believe the year is over.

“It’s been a blur,” she said. “I loved how students supported each other, watching them at competitions, and seeing them lift each other up.”

It’s because of those character traits and life skills, Rathe says, the value show choir has in a young person’s life.

“Not only are they developing musical skills, they are learning teamwork, learning grit, how to have a positive growth mindset, how to be cheerleaders for others, and to build each other up,” she said. “You learn those skills of how to be a grateful person in interacting with other groups at these competitions. The social skills you need to make friends and to communicate in different situations with those teammates. You learn how to deal with conflict and how to balance work and life.

“All of the life and community skills they are gaining by being part of these groups is insanely awesome.”

Eyes and ears were stuck to every swing and sway of the student performers. Their voices amplified the Staplin Center, captivating and exciting attendees much of the evening.

“This is a community that lifts up and values all of the performing arts,” Gibbons said. “We believe that show choir is one of those unique activities that truly brings community together.”

Then, it was the parents’ turn. Hello, Inflammation. (Yes, we know. We know.)

Show choir moms and dads strutted their stuff and let loose. The crowd erupted throughout the almost 10-minute performance. After walking off the stage, families of seniors soon returned with cutout faces of their students.

“We couldn't do it without you, parent volunteers,” Gibbons said.

“They are always on top of everything. There's so many things that happen that even I don't know fully about. I'm so grateful that we have folks like you. This night is about celebrating you as well.”

Shortly after, the lights flickered off, and the crowd watched an 18-minute slideshow. It recapped the season’s competitions, highlighted the seniors from this year’s bunch, and offered thanks to the long supporting cast of parent volunteers.

“We are really blessed to live in a district that supports the performing arts,” Weeklund said. “Our choral department staff is dedicated beyond words, and their love for what they do is evident.

“To know that other adults are investing so much time, energy, and love into your kids—there is no way to properly thank them for that.”

When the venue relit, smiles and selfies were aplenty.

Tears and hugs were flowing.

Memories now forever cherished.

And year after year, that is what makes this show-stopping force, and all of its moments, worth every second.