Glenwood Jazz Choir Makes It Voices Heard At State Championships
The group may be small in numbers, but the Glenwood Jazz Choir made a loud statement at last week’s Iowa Vocal Jazz Championships.
The five-member ensemble brought home a sixth-place trophy from the state competition in Spirit Lake.
Competing in Class 3A, Rhapsody In Gold, directed by Glenwood Community High School vocal music instructor Kevin Kilpatrick, performed three songs – “Sir Duke,” “Tenderly” and “Pass Me The Jazz.”
The performance at Iowa VJC was Glenwood’s first since 2018 and the first-ever for Kilpatrick and this year’s Rhapsody In Gold singers – soprano Aubrey Mullanix, tenor Dallis Taylor, alto Evan Belt, baritone Connor Edick and bass Aaron McQueen.
“I would say for me it was pretty nerve-racking. I was more nervous than they were,” Kilpatrick said. “I would say that one of the things that we all just knew going up is that we didn’t know what to expect. We all had expectations of what we thought it might be - we all were very clear on, we’ve never been to this school and we’ve never been to this level of jazz competition.”
Rhapsody In Gold’s success at the state championships actually came as somewhat of surprise to members of the group.
“I expected us to be like dead last because I didn’t even think a group of five would be eligible for anything,” Taylor said.
Mullanix hinted that the pressure she and the other Glenwood performers were feeling may have been eased after watching some of the other choirs perform before Glenwood took the stage. The other choirs were all good, but none were perfect, Mallanix pointed out.
“My personal expectation was like it would be crazy groups that were perfect,” she said. “We did see a lot of really good groups but they were not perfect.”
The Glenwood vocalists all agreed that their third and final song - “Pass Me The Jazz” – was their strongest number. It was also the most challenging.
“That’s the one we worked the hardest on and put the most time into,” Mullanix said. “I would say that’s our strongest.”
Others in the group shared similar views.
“At first, it was our worst piece but we kept hammering it and hammering it and after awhile it became our best, most confident piece,” Taylor said.
Kilpatrick said selecting music for a choir or band is always challenging for a musical director, but it was particularly difficult this year because of the size of the group.
“It was a unique process in getting all of our music locked down but with their unique skill sets and their knowledge of what it takes to be in a small ensemble, I wasn’t afraid to give each one of them their own part,” he said. “They all have a lot of experience doing this small group thing. I knew they would rise to that challenge, which they did, and I think they enjoyed that.
“Pass Me The Jazz was written and performed by a professional group called Real Group, a vocal ensemble out of Sweden, I believe. They (Rhapsody In Gold) did the exact arrangement, no modifications.”
Kilpatrick wasn’t provided the judges’ comments about the group until a few days after their performance. Most of the comments were positive, he said.
“There was a lot of praise for the level of complication it takes to be this small of a group so there was a feedback there,” he said. “We got some constructive criticism that I haven’t quite talked to these guys about, yet. In general, positive words. “Great jazz sound” was something they said.
“One of the things we’ve been working on the last few years is, ‘Do we sound like jazz?’ That is a another whole skill set that’s exact opposite of everything else that we ask out of choirs here so those are huge compliments (from the judges).”
Kilpatrick noted that judges singled out McQueen for his individual performance.
“Shout out to Aaron McQueen – two judges gave you a shout out because your biggest part in Pass Me The Jazz is ridiculously hard,” Kilpatrick said. “All of them had solos throughout. It’s kind of hard not to solo when you’re all your own part so all of them have multiple features throughout. They all took the stage at some point.”
The number of performers in Glenwood’s jazz choir varies from year to year. Last year, there were nine singers in Rhapsody In Gold and more than a dozen that comprised a JV choir. Kilpatrick said the approach to jazz choir is different than other vocal groups and it takes an extaordinary commitment from the student. Auditions are held in October and those who are selected rehearse together until the season ends in March.
“One of the main requirements for jazz choir, because this music is so complicated, you have to be prepared on your audition,” Kilpatrick said. “It’s not something you just elect to do, you have to put in the work to show that you want to be in the group. Some years, we have enough for a JV group and some years not.
“Last year, we had a total of 25 between the two groups. This year, not too many people wanted to take on the challenges. We keep the same standards so this year we just had the varsity.”
Kilpatrick said going to the state vocal championships with five singers is comparable to a basketball team playing at the state tournament with five players on its roster.
“They were able to pull off the impossible which is a whole year of keeping things positive, which in a small group like this, it is really difficult. If one of these people are sick, we’re done,” he said. “Staying healthy in high school is not easy.”
Edick credits “good chemistry” as a major reason for Rhapsody In Gold’s success.
“I think the five of us just work good together as a group because all five of us already have a lot of choir experience and the five of us all just know each other pretty well,” he said.
Belt believes there are some advantages to being small in numbers.
“I feel like the smaller group, it’s easier to really have control over what you’re doing,” Belt said. “In bigger groups, there’s more than one person per section so if you make a mistake in a section it’s a lot harder to pinpoint what to fix.”
The five members of group all share a passion for music but they each have their own reason for being in the group. Some are self-proclaimed “jazzers” who simply enjoy that genre of music and others like the challenges the music provides.
“I love jazz choir because it doesn’t need to be stressful,” Edick said. “If can be really relaxing and just having fun. And, I just wanted to get as much choir as I can before I graduate.”