ELLSWORTH — Mount Desert Island’s school show choirs and a new jazz octet mined a heap of gold and silver last Friday at the District VI Middle/High School Vocal Jazz Festival, and every one of them are going on to the finales Friday-Saturday, March 27-28, at Lawrence High School in Fairfield.
The day of song and dance started in the morning with the middle schools performing a variety of show, pop, and rock medleys. The evening session featured productions from Mount Desert, Ellsworth and Sumner Memorial high schools.
Middle school choirs
The first MDI school to perform was the Conners-Emerson School Show Stoppers, which lived up to its name with its wonderous “Bigtop Rescue.” This turned out to be a steampunk-inspired tribute to the circus, which even had a team of roustabout moms, dads and grandads raising a big top tent for their set.
Director Rebecca Edmondson always puts a little quirk into her music and choreography and the delightfully dark opening number “The Circus at the End of the World” was a prime example. The Show Stoppers also demonstrated a deep depth of talent with terrific solos from Mai Ishimura, as the slightly menacing ringmaster; Molly Dority in the “Bigtop” finale; some fun scatting from Berkley Grant and Zoey Ray, as well as a terrific trio number, “Queen of the Three Ring Circus,” sung by Mai Ishimura Annine Kovacs and Harmony Hopkins.
The costumes here were among the best of Friday’s event with circus animals, mimes, a stilt-walker, beautiful acrobats and other enchanting circus folk, all of whom were accompanied by an excellent pit band. The Show Stoppers earned a silver rating from judges Gina Schuh-Turner and Renae Misner.
Pemetic School from Southwest Harbor was one of the few to take the term “show choir” literally performing music from the Broadway Show “Wicked.” This featured some impressive solos including Per Lisy’s “Popular” and Denali Wagstaff belting out “Defying Gravity.”
There were a few ragged spots, here, but they earned a silver rating and thus a chance to iron out the wrinkles before going to the state competition March 27.
The Trentones of Trenton earned bronze and featured some great innovations such as using jump ropes for percussion and brief spoken quotes from famous people related to their theme of following one’s dreams. Standouts here were Dorothy Durgin whose dancing throughout was great and solo turn in “Electricity,” was, well, dreamy; and A. J. Dow who really convinced us he had “A Million Dreams.”
The new MDIHS Jazz Octet, delivered the most consistently tuneful performance of the day with the jazz standards “Misty” — featuring a velvety solo by Finn Hansbury and “Blue Skies,” coming away with a gold for its debut performance. EHS’s Jazz choir also received gold for their cool “Moondance,” and deliciously warm “Georgia.”
High school show choirs
This year MDIHS Trebles directors Frank Bachman and Annie Leonardi left the esoteric, allegorical fare to the school’s Mixed Choir and went to a very welcome, lighter side.
Their vintage Beatles, Lady Gaga, Simon and Garfunkel set was great fun although they, too, had some pitch misses that need to be nailed down before the finale. Their silver rating will give them time to do just that.
It’s doubtful anyone was surprised that the MDIHS Mixed Choir grabbed the first gold of the evening with its “The Binding of Isaac” — based on one of the Old Testament’s darkest stories. While it’s still a work in progress, their almost seamlessly synchronized singing and dance moves to an eclectic selection of rock, gospel, classical and Kanye blew the audience and judges away. It was difficult at this early stage to follow the thread of the story they were telling (they normally add three or four more elements to the production before finals), but it did suggest some sort of sacrifice was afoot.
In any case the telling of it is already exquisite and included a thrilling surprise violin solo from Jane Pope. We will have a chance to see how it all plays out at the show choir extravaganza, planned for March 26 at MDIHS.
Ellsworth High School’s show choir received the second well-deserved gold of the evening, closing the festival with a rollicking performance of “American Roots,” a heart-pounding, joyful selection of classic folk, country and rock tunes, incredible dancing, and even a brass marching band their director Jasmine Ireland threw into the marvelous mix. Wow!
Both the middle school and high school show and jazz choirs will travel to Fairfield for the finales at Lawrence High School March 27-28.