THROUGH THE DECADES
I was hired to create a Choral Music Program for Bernards Township in 1980. From Day One, I had carte blanche from the administration and free reign access to all students. An ideal situation! I had twelve signed into the Choir class as the previous Director had aged out. I could take kids out of gym 2x a week which made me pretty popular! Then Superintendent John Fanning (RIP) hired me to build a choral program in the middle school for eventual transition to the high school. Those first two years were spent recruiting as the first of six building renovations began in the district. The town was growing and the high school needed more room.
In October 1980, I presented Viva la Musica as a spaghetti dinner-concert in the cafeteria. Immediate success! Parents were able to see their treasures perform while enjoying a sumptuous meal and each other's company. It was a way for me to introduce myself and explain the overall goal of building and maintaining a choral music program.
After the obligatory Winter Concert, I challenged the singers to create a CABARET - Scenes and Selections from Broadway Musicals! Everyone in the program was involved, many of whom sang solos. It was performed with costumes and props - in the library. Again, a success! I knew I had these kids hooked into performing and sharing their talents!
During my second and final year in the middle school (construction on the high school was nearing completion), I brought CABARET to the big stage - our 450-seat auditorium! We had hit the big time! The format of CABARET was a winner - handpick music that was appealing and appropriate for the age group, change keys where charts were out of range, add costumes, lighting and simple choreography, and away you go! We advertised the show for two nights and turned over 100 people away at the door! This was such a novelty for this small town! It was the perfect recruiting tool for the start of what would become my award-winning high school choral program over the next four decades!
In 1982, 125 singers and I moved into Ridge High School. The momentum had begun. I created 7 (!) choirs offering every type of ensemble I could to the student body at the high school, which, at the time, was about 800 students. We resurrected CABARET in 1986 as those seventh graders had now become seniors! It proved to be the perfect recruiting tool for the entire program and a huge thank-you to those young people who first blazed the trail for their future Brothers and Sisters in Song!
CABARET did not make another appearance until 2003. I had returned to Ridge from a 2-year teaching assignment at the International School of Düsseldorf to a program that needed another kick in the choral pants. CABARET had worked before and I knew I could make it work again! My Concert Choir needed a renewed recruiting effort and this was how I was going to do it.
I LOVED A CABARET! (insert song cue). It was the PERFECT project to fill the months of January-March when there was little else to look forward to! My thought process went like this...From September to December, you are rebuilding, establishing and getting to know your singers. December is jam-packed with caroling and the Winter Choral Concert. There is a flurry of excitement in the air.
Then January hits and ... nothing...
CABARET fit perfectly here. The framework was the same. Everyone in Concert Choir (you had to be in Concert Choir to be in CABARET) became the cast. There were FOUR all-cast numbers - an opener and closer to each of two acts. The all-cast numbers in Act One were choreographed. The opener of Act Two was a seated dedicatory senior number where the seniors sat downstage in college attire, symbolizing their eminent graduation and the underclass persons stood behind them in Ridge-wear. Symbolic. Moving. Many a mother wept. Act Two closed with the Curtain Call-There's No Business Like Show Business-where every member of the cast came forward for a bow to receive love and adulation from their audience. There were two all-girl numbers and two all-guy numbers, one of which was traditionally Officer Krupke. The feature of the evening was an auditioned soloist singing Cabaret just before the Curtain Call. The remainder of the show was comprised of Open Call numbers - averaging between 18-20 Open Calls. A treasured teacher-friend was our Narrator for the one-night-only performance. Our on-stage pit band was comprised of our accompanist, her husband on Bass and a Drummer. I conducted from a podium which was front and center in Row A.
I would provide music for anything requested in the Open Call. Over the years, I'd accumulated dozens of Broadway show scores which remained locked in the vault. Each member of the Concert Choir could audition for one solo and participate in one group number. (Early on, this rule did not exist so a few CABARET'S became feature performances for individual students 😒) In January, our accompanist and I would meet each open call after school - they would arrive in the costume they would wear for their audition and we would run their number and give performance advice. Auditions were a full week, during class, in the PAC...on stage, fully mic'd. Class members voted (or not) using a rubric. I collected score sheets, entered scores into my EXCEL database, averaged per day, shared the results with the class and another CABARET was born.
Around 2018, year 15 consecutively, I realized the spark which CABARET had brought to the program and the community was waning. Enthusiasm seemed lacking. Response to ticket sales was proving what I had suspected. So, in the fall of 2018, I announced to my Concert Choir that CABARET was done. Finished. A thing of the past.
That did NOT sit well with Concert Choir. I explained my reasoning and they countered with a different idea - THROUGH THE DECADES. A similar premise but now the music choices could be anything spanning a chosen number of decades. Student Narration. A lot of karaoke tracks. Still two guy and two girl numbers. Still a senior dedication but at the end of the show. Each open call takes their own bow at the end of their number.
So, in 2019, THROUGH THE DECADES was presented to our loving and supportive community. I watched the entire production from our sound booth. I had no responsibility on the evening of the performance for any part of their work. An all-student production. I was beaming.
In 2020, THROUGH THE DECADES was scheduled for March 19th. It was never presented to the community.
For me, the true beauty of both THROUGH THE DECADES and CABARET centers around a few little known facts. This is CONCERT CHOIR - not Dance class or Theatre/Movement Class. Some of these kids had NEVER been in any sort of production other than a typical on-the-risers Choral concert. Not all movements are precise. Some move right when they should move left. But ALL are giving the best they have. I know their backstories as most teachers do. In this moment, their innocence, determination and commitment to the finished performance will bring me to tears every time. ❤
A CABARET Senior Dedication.
Soloists Karthik Iyer and Ginny Lafean.