Vocalists Competing At State Vocal Jazz
While there are some folks who will tell you that lightning doesn’t strike the same place twice, you’d be hard pressed to explain that to a group of Emmetsburg High School students. A year ago at this time, 16 Emmetsburg High School students were nervously preparing to compete for the first time ever in the 2015 Iowa Vocal Jazz Championships in Sioux City. Today, the 20 members of the Emmetsburg Vocal Jazz Experiment are competing once again the Class 2A competition of the Iowa Vocal Jazz Championships at Valley West High School in Des Moines.
In only its second year of existence, EHS Vocal Music Director Luke Miller increased the size of his group by four members and entered the group in a pair of events at Western Iowa Tech in Sioux City and at Morningside College in Sioux City. By virtue of a pair of wins in those events, the Vocal Jazz Experiment found itself moving on to the State Championships once again.
Emmetsburg’s vocal music programs have long enjoyed a tradition of success and excellence in all of their various disciplines, but the vocal jazz format had not been part of the department until 2015, when Miller decided to offer a new challenge to a group of highly talented and motivated student musicians.
“I wanted to start a vocal jazz program to give the students another opportunity to experience a different kind of vocal music,” Miller explained. “Expanding their boundaries is very good for students, and is a great form of differentiation. Vocal jazz can be difficult, because it requires the students to concentrate on listening as they tune difficult harmonies with their fellow vocalists, so it is very good for their ears to be able to fine tune chords.”
After the success of the initial group last year, when Miller held auditions in the Fall of 2015 for the current group, interest had grown among the students, and Miller expanded the group to 20 vocalists. Rehearsals took place over the winter months, as the singers learned their selections, then began the painstaking work of blending their 20 voices together, mastering phrasing, dynamics and interpretation, as well as some “scat” singing along the way.
“As part of learning vocal jazz, some students are learning the art of “scatting”, or improvising with their voices,” Miller noted. “Students learn about the chord structure and the type of scale that a piece of music is written around, and then they make up syllables and notes based on the chord progression and scale being used.”
While a piano, drums and bass are allowed as accompaniment, groups also utilize vocalists who specialize in being the “beat box” or vocal percussionist, imitating drums, a bass and other instruments, strictly with their voice. For the second year, Aaron Hutchison fills this vital role for the group.
For this year, the members of the Emmetsburg Vocal Jazz Experience include Nick Grandstaff, Alexis Whitney, Keagan Barrett, Bryar Olson, Evan Brennan, Natalie Ruiz, Phoenix Campbell, Bailey Naig, Alex Gray, Kayla Joyce, Aaron Hutchison, Emily Schmidt, Austin Noll, Alli Enriquez, Cameron Heddinger, Kylie Weisbrod, Robert Nelson, Madison Olson, Wayne Barrett and Linnea Ankeny. Mrs. Laura Gustafson serves as accompanist for the ensemble.
“The students who were part of the group last year have really helped the newcomers learn the craft, and everyone has been having a lot of fun in the process,” Miller said. “I’m very happy with the way they’ve accepted this style of performance and I’m very proud of how they’ve developed into a quality vocal ensemble.”