ELLSWORTH — Oh my, what a thrilling day of song and dance last Friday when many of our area high schools and middle schools gathered at Ellsworth High School for the District VI Vocal Jazz Festival. They performed 13 different show choir and jazz choir productions in hopes of going on to the finale 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 tune, pop and rock medleys. All but one of these entries earned the silver and bronze ratings to continue in the competition. But the first session ended in solid gold for the two jazz choir entries from EHS and Mount Desert Island High School with their perfectly pitched singing of classic jazz standards.
The evening session featured show choir productions from EHS, Mount Desert Island and Sumner Memorial high schools and also was capped with two gold-worthy performances.
Middle school choirs
Hancock Middle School, which debuted its new show choir to open the competition, showed some serious potential with its medley of Disney tunes. After an understandably nervous start, the group gradually gained confidence and enthusiasm and featured one of the sweetest solos of the day from Hunter Jones, singing “Hero.”
Next up was the Conners-Emerson School Show Stoppers, who lived up to their name with their wonder-filled “Big Top Rescue,” a steam punk take on circus-related songs and dances.
One of the most impressive things about the Mountain View School choir was its size of about 30 or so, which must have been a good percentage of its student body, indicating that their director Lisa Blanchette must make it a fun activity. Their medley of hope-filled and heartfelt songs impressed the judges enough to earn them a silver rating and featured some fine solo work, most notably from Aleena Rajan and Brionna Mowery.
Ellsworth Middle School also earned silver with its ’90s pop and rock medley, directed by Mike Perlman. This group had the most energy and enthusiasm of all the morning shows and also one of the best openings of the day with Zoey Mussman alone on stage singing the first line of Lisa Loeb’s plaintive “Stay.” Then, one by one, Zoey was joined by Hannah Porter and Kyla Micalizzi forming an enchanting and tuneful trio. Later on, Kyla also had a chill rapping solo. If there were a few ragged spots in this performance, it was understandable considering the song load and complicated dance moves Perlman challenged them with.
Perhaps a medley of Queen tunes was a lot to expect from the middle-schoolers at Peninsula. While they made it to the finals with a bronze rating, these kids deserve a gold for chutzpah in taking on such a difficult song as “Bohemian Rhapsody” — kudos to Josh Orellana-Kramer, here — and the enthusiasm they brought to “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” and “We Will Rock You,” which they did!
Trenton’s Trentones also 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.”
High school show choirs
Sumner High School opened the evening with a medley of songs of rebellion. This had some great moments with two of the strongest solos of the night performed by Skylar Robinson in an emotion-packed “Listen” and Mia Richardson singing “Speechless.” Still, the chorus needs some work to pull the choreography, and harmonies together, and while it is usually a good thing to smile and sing sweetly as they did in the final number, the song was “We’re Not Going to Take It,” and called for a different attitude altogether. They were much more on point with the pugnacious foot stomping in “It’s My Life,” which certainly helped them land a bronze rating and get them to the finale.
The MDIHS Trebles went to a welcome lighter side this year with vintage Beatles, Lady Gaga and Simon and Garfunkel songs and will go to the finale with a silver rating.
The MDIHS Mixed Choir grabbed the first gold of the evening with its performance of “The Binding of Isaac,” based on one of the New Testament’s darkest stories. While it’s still a work in progress, the group blew the audience and judges away with its intricate harmonies and choreography.
When EHS’s show choir rolled out its set for the final performance of the evening, “American Roots,” a buckboard wagon, gut buckets, kegs and wooden crates, it looked as if we were headed down a country road. But it’s likely every grandparent present (which includes me) got one of the biggest thrills of the day when their excellent backup band played the unmistakable opening riffs of Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain.” Apparently, this and the vintage tunes that followed struck a chord with the younger generations in the audience as well, who filled the theater with gleeful whoops and applause throughout this extraordinarily fun performance. The heart-pounding, aggressively sung and choreographed opener was followed by the sweetly melodic ballad “Amie,” charmingly performed by Nolan Domagala, who also did some fine acting as a thoroughly convincing country star.
And just as the final harmonies of “Amie” dissipated out into the ether and we older folks may have gotten a bit dozy in our seats, they blasted us awake with a tsunami of sound in the Eagles’ “Seven Bridges Road.” Wow!
They gently brought us down again with another Fleetwood Mac classic, “Landslide,” hauntingly sung by Aurora Haslam, whose stage presence is as commanding as her lovely, mellow voice. While you would never want Aurora to push those elegant, seemingly effortless vocals, a compromise needs to be worked out with the chorus here, in which they sing a little softer in this song and she a little louder so her important melody line isn’t lost when they join in.
Then it was another romp in the hay with “Wagon Wheel,” and believe me it was an outstanding effort on my part not to loudly join in on the chorus.
For the finale, it was back to Fleetwood with “Tusk,” featuring a fabulously sultry solo by Seneca Maddocks-Wilbur, some incredibly expressive dancing and oh, oh! a brass marching band, for cripes sake! Well, really, you had to have been there.
Of course, the performance earned EHS the second gold of the night and one of the highest scores (96 and 98) from judges Gina Schuh-Turner and Renae Misner.
The public will have another chance to see this stunning EHS Show Choir performance at Husson University’s Gracie Theatre in Bangor on March 26, the Vocal Jazz Fest finals at Lawrence High School on March 28 and at the school’s Jazz Night concert in April.