A Gleeful Song

Members of Central Ohio's Olentangy High School Show Choir, the Keynotes, bust their moves.
Americans from every walk of life are raising their voices in song these days, as our Mo Rocca can attest:

How are Emily, a trumpet-playing high school sophomore; Michael, a star varsity football player; Elly, a German Club enthusiast; and Brian, a 4H member and wrestler, connected?

They're all members of Central Ohio's Olentangy High School Show Choir, the Keynotes.

Show choirs, or glee clubs, are nothing new. But with the popularity of singing competitions, and a hit TV show about a glee club, they're riding a pop culture crescendo.

"You get ready to go on stage and your excitement builds and then it just explodes while you're out on stage - you're having so much fun singing and dancing," said R.J. Smith,

"I tell everyone that I'm in show choir now," said R.J. Smith. "It makes me feel cool inside now, now that I'm actually in it."

Smith, Natalee Doellman, Emily Moore and Brian Cagnon are all members of Olentangy's Keynotes. Performing on stage has given them a sense of achievement and, they say, an extra boost of confidence.

Emily says show choir has given her extra moxie.

"Oh yeah, I can walk down the hall dancin' to a song in my head if I need to," said Moore. "It's completely changed me, like I'm a completely different person."

"What is the feeling you guys have when you are singing together and it's just working?" asked Rocca.

"It's exhilarating," said Cagnon. "We go through all the process of trying it and it doesn't sound good. And you keep working on it, keep working on it. And eventually it almost doesn't really climb to it. It climbs a little bit. And then all of a sudden it just clicks and it's perfect. And people look around, tou look at each other and you're freakin' out because it's completely sweet."

The hard work has paid off. In the past twenty years the Keynotes have brought home a shelf full of trophies, even if show choir doesn't enjoy quite the status of team sports.

"My dad told me I could meet girls in show choir," said Michael Raiff.

Football player Michael Raiff met his girlfriend, Elly Freytag, in the group.

"In football if you're in show choir you get made fun of; it's kind of like a natural thing," Raiff said. "So we usually cover it up. Say we have something to do that night, somewhere to go. If they ask, just say, 'Don't worry about it,' and then go on with life," he laughed.

"Well, you're gonna get caught eventually," Rocca said.

"Yeah. Now we will!"

Raiff may have joined the Keynotes to meet a girl, but he's still in it.

"Admit it: You like singing and dancing?" Rocca asked.

"Yes, I do," was Raif's response, which his girlfriend applauded.

In fact, glee clubs were originally all-male. The first, founded in London in 1787, sang unaccompanied three- or four-part songs called glees, like "Glorious Apollo," as sung by the Harvard Glee Club. It's America's oldest, founded in 1858.

Today, the names "glee club" and "show choir" (along with choruses and acapella group) are often used interchangeably.

And if you're hearing the term "glee club" more these days, that may be due to the hit Fox TV series, "Glee."

The show may be about a struggling glee club full of misfits, but the cast is treated like rock stars . . . and songs from the show's soundtrack regularly top iTunes' list of hot sellers.

"Glee"'s characters are an unlikely mix: The idea that a Korean American goth girl with a stutter, an athlete, (a diva), a special needs kids, a gay student can all be brought together by the glee club - Is this realistic at all?

"I think it's completely realistic," said Amber. "I think the fact that we're showing it on TV makes people think a little bit. We're showing that you can work together and be different.

Lea Michele plays Rachel, the fictional glee club's prickly girl with a powerhouse voice.

"There's nothing that brings people closer together than have to sort of like express yourself in that way. That sometimes you feel very vulnerable. There's all different emotions that go on when you're learning to sing or learning to dance together. You're like using your bodies and stuff in a way that's a little scary even if you're really, you know, good at it."

"You kind of have to give blind trust to the people that you're around that, okay, they're going to respect what I'm doing," said Kevin McHale who plays Artie Abrams.

(AP Photo/Diane Bondareff)
Singing and dancing well together is really hard. And you don't need to tell that to THESE ladies:

The 82 women of Long Island's Greater Nassau Chorus rehearse every Tuesday in a church basement. No wonder they took fourth place at this year's Sweet Adelines World Championship.

The singers ranging in age from 27 to 89 are driven by their fearless leader, Harriette Walters.

"It's much more than the music," she told Rocca. "The music is what brought us together, but it's the people, the friendships and the relationship and the teamwork that keep us coming back week after week after week."

That's right: teamwork. As these vocal veterans know, there is no "i" in glee.

"When you walk in the door you have to recognize that you're bigger than yourself," said Sylvia.

"Okay, but, Arlene, there must be a temptation sometimes, just sort of go all 'American Idol' and sort of be the big soloist."

"No," said Arlene.

"It's like salmon all going in the same direction, going to the same goal," said Blanche. "That's what we are. And if somebody's going upstream, that star going in the opposite direction - "

"Okay, but you can sort of leap out of the river maybe once in a while?" Rocca suggested.

"You can - and get caught. You get caught and be dinner for someone!" she laughed.

For Sylvia it started as a hobby. "And now it's become much more of a style of living. I mean, I don't know what I would do if I'm not there on Tuesday nights. You know, 'Okay, where am I supposed to be tonight? It's Tuesday. Why am I not there?' Unless I'm not feeling well, that would be the only reason that I might not go."

But if you're not feeling well, that may be the time too break out into song. Research has found that singing improves posture, strengthens the heart, and teaches you to breath more deeply.

And breathing is fundamental in Olentangy High School's show choir. The Keynotes invited me to rehearse the guys' medley. I wasn't going to say no.

Warming up meant stretching, crunches, pushups . . . then vocal exercises.

I sing tenor, so I shadowed veteran tenor Keynote Brian Cagnon.

We worked on our enunciation . . . and our facial expressions! Then it was time to bust some moves.

"That's why we have mirrors in front of us, so you can check out the moves and make sure you're doing the same thing as everybody else," said Holly.

Yes, there's a reason it's called show choir. If it looks like hard work, it is. If it looks like fun, it's not. It's really fun!

For more info:
"Glee" (Fox TV)
Greater Nassau Chorus
Harvard Glee Club
Olentangy High School Keynotes
Sacred Heart of Jesus
Sweet Adelines International