MONROE – “It had to be you. It had to be you. I wandered around and finally found someone who could make me be true.”
From the classrooms to the halls, these words could be heard echoing through PCM High School at around 7 a.m. Feb. 28. To many, this catchy tune by Isham Jones and Gus Kahn simply describes a typical romance – probably something straight out of the 1989 romantic comedy, “When Harry Met Sally…”
But if you listened closely to the rendition sung Feb. 28, it wasn’t necessarily about a particular person or relationship. It was about how a group of PCM students finally found something that made them be true. And that something is choral jazz.
“I never knew how much I would love it and how it would become such a big part of my life. It is crazy,” senior Sidney Metzger said. “When I heard we were doing jazz choir, I was like ‘Yes.’ I love jazz music. This was something different and right up my alley.”
For many of the choir students at PCM, this was the first year they tried their hand at singing jazz. After decades of offering show choir, PCM choir director Chloe McCartney decided to replace the program that combines choral singing and dance for vocal jazz in her first year at the helm of the PCM choir program.
From the doo-wops of improvising to getting used to the obscurities of blues scales, McCartney said the new program has allowed her choir students to explore new ways of playing with their voice and further hone their singing abilities.
“Show choir just takes a lot of money and it has become a thing where it is all about the spectacle, not so much about the singing,” McCartney said. “Jazz is coming to the forefront. I saw potential here and I thought it would be the best thing for the school. It turns out, it worked really well.”
In the first year of offering choral jazz, one of the two jazz choirs at PCM was selected to compete at the state level for the annual Iowa Vocal Jazz Championships. According to the choir teacher, the group was one of eight teams chosen to perform in the 2A division.
“It is not usual in the first year of doing something, you make a state event,” McCartney said. “We went to Comet Sensation at North Polk. They clinic-ed us after one of our performances, and (one of the judges) said ‘You should really submit your group for jazz championships. You guys would have a really good shot.’ I was like, ‘Oh wow.’ I was really shocked.”
The PCM Vocal Jazz Red team will perform three songs – Isham Jones and Gus Kahn’s “It Had To Be You,” Barry Manilow’s “When October Goes” and Erroll Garner’s “Misty” – in front of three judges March 27 at the Staplin Performing Arts Center in West Des Moines.
McCartney said these songs were selected from a pool by the choir students. She said this allowed them to have more fun with the music and connect to the songs on a more personal level.
“Every single one of us have a moment where we relate to each song,” senior Sydney Burns said. “We sang our ballad (‘When October Goes’). It really jelled together. Everyone was really feeling the emotions. We were all looking at each other and feeling the music.”
The choir instructor said in the first year of offering choral jazz, she has already seen a major improvement in the students’ overall vocal skills. She said there has been many circumstances where the students recognize little aspects where they can improve, from tweaking diction of certain words to adjusting the dynamics of the song to enhance the overall impact, without her instruction and quickly make the adjustments.
“These kids are so teachable. They want to learn. They want to know more. They want to be good. They put in the work. They come in here on their own time and ask me to help them with something because they want it to be the best it can be. It is so cool to see that.”
According to McCartney, the choir kids will not be the only people representing PCM on the stage at the state championships. Senior Jacob Ponder, and PCM fourth and fifth grade music teacher, Christen Nicoll will play accompaniment for the jazz choir.
“Our choir is like a family. It connects so many people that maybe wouldn’t have (been together) if they weren’t in choir, weren’t in music, weren’t in the arts,” senior Amber Meyer said. “People come together for the arts.”
With admission to the event costing $10, PCM High School Principal Scott Bridges said he hopes to see several of the community March 27 in the audience when the students take the spotlight and show the rest Iowa why they love to sing.
“I’m really proud of what they have accomplished,” Bridges said. “I hope to be able to come up and watch them when they perform ... This will be the culminating event for them for the year.”
Contact Anthony Victor Reyes at firstname.lastname@example.org