From a music department standpoint, one could say the school year at Seymour High School has started on a good note.
Combining enrollment in the band and choirs, nearly 500 students — about one-third of the school’s student body — are involved in the programs.
The band has about 240 students, the most during director Kevin Cottrill’s 15-year tenure.
Second-year choral director Kyle Karum said several factors contribute to his department growing to about 260, which is an increase of nearly 80 students from last school year.
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For one, the high school has grown by at least 160 students since the end of the 2015-16 school year.
Karum also said Keith Stam is doing a good job leading the choirs at the middle school, which keeps students interested once they reach high school.
Plus, Karum is using success and quality as a recruiting tool, including touting the four choirs’ gold ratings in performance and sight-reading at a music festival in April.
“Students are more likely to join something if it’s successful,” he said. “If they feel like they will be successful, if they feel like they are going to be successful and join a winning team, they are more likely to join that team.”
While making music is the main purpose, Karum said it’s important to have fun at the same time.
“We like to laugh and joke around and have fun overall,” he said. “I think that helps, too, because I don’t want to be the strict disciplinarian and get up here, ‘We have to make music.’ We’re going to have fun, and we’re going to build these relationships. We’re going to make music — that’s our primary goal — but we have other things that we want to do, as well.”
To bring even more harmony to the choral department, Karum recently decided to have a weekend retreat for the show choir. He chose that group because it will have the most shows — six — this school year, and each semester consists of one more performance than last year.
Karum said he attended a three-day retreat during college and thought it brought the group closer together and helped them learn the music. That’s why he wanted to offer that for the show choir this year.
The Friday of the retreat began with a pizza party in the choir room before Karum and eight students left to attend the varsity football game at Silver Creek High School.
Then Saturday and Sunday, about 30 students participated in rehearsals of songs the show choir will perform this year and games, including a kickball tournament, to help the group develop a bond.
They had learned two songs in class, which meets two or three times a week, and they started learning two more during the retreat.
One is “I Am Not Yours” by Z. Randall Stroope, which Karum said may be the hardest piece he has ever given a high school group because it consists of six-part harmony. The other song is “There’s a Fine, Fine Line” from the musical “Avenue Q.”
Musically, Karum said the show choir improved “big time” during the retreat.
“Instead of just learning all of the notes and rhythms and thinking that’s good enough, this is very much a musicality standpoint where we’re really trying to fine-tune our sound as a choral ensemble,” he said.
“We are starting to learn all of the pitches and rhythms, and we’re starting to make music of it,” he said. “Music is not the notes and rhythms themselves. It’s what you do with those notes and rhythms. It’s what you do in between the notes and rhythms. It’s what you do with it that makes it music, where you shape it, you emphasize something or have one part come out and another part back down, things like that.”
With the bonding activities, Karum said the group grew “exponentially.”
“They kind of came in and they were friends and they kind of knew each other, but I wanted them to get to know each other, to get to know everybody and not just all have these four or five friends in the group,” he said. “I think that helped develop those friendships, and I think they all know each other now by name and have that connection now.”
When Karum first told students about the retreat, junior Bryse Colwell said he was excited about a new opportunity in his second year of show choir.
“I looked forward to it personally just because I took it as an opportunity to bond with people,” he said. “Last year, I was very close with everybody in the choir, but that bonding didn’t happen for me until toward the end of the year, toward the musical time. I think it’s nice to get it started early, get us all close-knit early.”
This is junior Mara Luedeman’s first year in show choir, and she said the retreat helped her fit in.
“That was a good way to be welcomed into it because I feel like everybody is pretty close-knit,” she said.
The retreat gave everyone an opportunity to know each other better, Luedeman said.
“Like on Sunday, we had a kickball tournament, and that was a lot of fun,” she said. “We all just came back over to the parking lot and played basketball for a while afterwards, so it really allowed people to open up and get to know people. That was a good experience.”
Colwell said the retreat also allowed the show choir to spend more time working on the music.
“I think it really helped us get better at the songs,” he said. “I think it’s going to be better once concert time comes. We’re going to be better at the songs. It’s just going to make for a better concert all around. Friendships can be started, and we get better musically. I just think it’s a good thing all around.”
Assistant choral director Karla Shutters also worked with the show choir during the retreat. She said it was a good addition, particularly because several students are new to the group this year.
“Just to see the bonding and the friendships that were made from spending that much time together, and (Karum) did a lot of games to where they had to intermingle, it was fun,” she said. “We got a lot accomplished in a short amount of time. They are working on some tough pieces, and they made great progress.”
In the end, Shutters said the students appeared to be more confident in their parts with the show choir.
“They just felt more secure, and they could be more themselves,” she said. “They weren’t as shy and holding back. They felt freer to be more open.”
Shutters said Karum has high standards of what he wants the choirs to do this year and in the future. She said the retreat was a stepping stone to get there.
“It’s a great program. It has always had that foundation,” she said. “Things have changed over the last few years, but I think he’s really got the energy to try to just keep building it. And the expectations, he’s setting that bar there for them to go for.”
Karum said he is planning another show choir retreat in January for members to start learning this year’s musical, “Bye Bye Birdie.” Then next fall, he may do an off-campus retreat.
Seymour High School choirs 2016-17 performance schedule
Fall Preview Concert (all choirs), 7 p.m. Oct. 18 at Seymour High School’s Earl D. Prout Auditorium
Sing Out the Season! Songs, Stories and Sights (show choir with the Bloomington Chamber Singers), 2 and 7:30 p.m. Dec. 3 at Buskirk-Chumley Theater in Bloomington
Sounds of the Season (all choirs), 7 p.m. Dec. 14 at the Earl D. Prout Auditorium
Spring Musical “Bye Bye Birdie” (show choir), 7:30 p.m. April 6, 7 and 8 at the Earl D. Prout Auditorium
ISSMA Choral Festival (all choirs), times TBD April 22 at Columbus East High School
Spring Sing Concert (all choirs), 7 p.m. May 4 at the Earl D. Prout Auditorium