By Todd Travis
Roncalli High School’s show choir earned all the bragging rights in their division this year, winning six grand championships in impressive fashion. Led by choir director, Joey Newton, the talented team was able to stay undefeated and win the most grand championships in the school’s history. A Roncalli graduate, Newton credits his massive team for the leap in success they were able to achieve. There is a choreographer, a songwriter, a tech crew, a live band, parent volunteers and a costume crew. “Prior to this year, we have never won more than three grand championships in one year, so this was a record not only for me as a director but also for us as a team and for the school as well,” Newton said.
For the competitions, the team performs a 15-minute show that is non-stop singing and dancing along with a few costume changes. “From start to finish, it’s an explosive, entertaining show.” Newton described.
In addition to time spent practicing at school, there are competitions that last for hours on weekends. “On a Saturday, we may spend anywhere between 12-18 hours at a competition. It can be tough to be away from home and family that much, but on the bright side, show choir competitions are an absolute blast,” Newton mentioned. Even though the teams are in competition with one another, they are still able to appreciate the performances of the other schools. “Watching what the other directors have come up with is really fun and some of what they do is phenomenal,” Newton concluded.
This was Newton’s 11th year as the choir director for Roncalli. Although his background was primarily vocals, he was able to assemble a team to create a comprehensive show with the songwriters and choreographers. Each year, he was able to learn more and improve his skills as a director. “At the competitions, the judges make comments and give feedback that is meant to help the teams improve their performances. In my first years, it was the hours spent listening to those judges’ comments that taught me how to design and execute a successful show,” he recalled.
Show choir is unique because students work on both their singing and dancing. “Most students come in with the idea that they are either a singer or a dancer, but I try to constantly tell them the goal is to be the total package,” Newton explained. Team members work on their weaker areas because, ultimately, they are judged on both singing and dancing, not just one or the other. Some students even find that they are able to excel in their weaker area after working hard to improve their skill set.
Newton said he feels blessed to have a team full of talent to showcase in diverse ways. One standout student that contributed to the team’s success is junior Ellie Buening. “She can do things with her voice that the average person can’t, from ad-libbing to singing runs and riffs, most can’t do exactly what she can do,” Newton said. Buening has a background in performing which includes local theater, school productions and singing. As a freshman at Roncalli, she watched her first show choir performance and was immediately interested. “From the minute I saw them I knew I wanted to be a part of it,” Buening recalled.
As a soloist, Buening showcased her creativity by writing some of her own material. She actually produces some of what she performs on the spot. “The night before the audition I practiced my runs and put things together to see if anything stuck. From there I would record a section and alter it or change it as I went,” she recalled. A run is a long series of notes sung in succession and stands out from the music.
Buening did not have a strong background in dancing but has worked hard to improve this skill. “The difference in my dance ability and what I know from last year to this year is crazy. We do so much dancing in show choir that I feel much stronger in my dancing now,” she explained. “Show choir is very fast-paced and it can be tiring, but there’s a lot of energy involved and it’s so fun.”
A favorite moment for Buening was when the team won best vocals for their first competition at Pendleton Heights. “Going into your first competition, you never know how the judges are going to react to what you’re doing but when I found out we won best vocals I cried because vocals really mean a lot to me,” Buening remarked. She felt that gave them a big confidence boost as they moved forward. Building momentum, they won every award they could at the next competition at Franklin Community.
Buening returns as a senior next year with a positive outlook along with her teammates. “Next year I hope to remind everyone that it’s important to have fun with this,” she stated. There will be an expectation for the team to continue their success, but she hopes that this outlook will help everyone to stay relaxed and enjoy themselves. For now, Newton, Buening and the rest of the team can enjoy a fantastic season and celebrate their success.