All That Jazz…Singers

Serena Kok Sey Tjong, Staff Writer

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As most of us already know, Paint Branch is overflowing with opportunities for personal growth and advancement. An abundance of different clubs and programs are available for each student, no matter what they are interested in discovering. One such opportunity is the school’s show choir, the Jazz Singers.

Choral Director Ms. Christine Mitchell created the program at Blair High School and then brought it over with her to Paint Branch in 1989, because students showed an interest in performing a wide variety of top-quality music from genres such as pop, classical, and acapella. With her expertise – as well as a master’s degree in music education – Ms. Mitchell strives to challenge kids with music so that they may grow as performers and express themselves and their unique capabilities.

As the school’s top vocal performance group, the Jazz Singers is greatly involved in multiple school events, like Back-to-School Night, in which the group represents the music department and is a perfect example of the immense talent, diversity and drive Paint Branch’s student body showcases every day. Members also get the opportunity to go on field trips and do community performances, allowing them to “practice their craft” and gain more experience in the performing arts.

In order to be a part of the show choir, students must audition in the spring for the following year. They perform a one-minute piece that they have prepared, as well as run scales in order for their voice part to be determined. They are also graded in ten different categories including tone quality, rhythm accuracy, projection and technique. According to Mrs. Mitchell, “the group ranges in size from twenty-five to forty in any given year,” which means that there are limited spots available in each voice part each year. This is to assure a balanced sound, so whether or not a student is part of the group depends on how many students audition for a certain voice part, and the overall score they receive.

Making it very competitive, Ms. Mitchell seeks to admit only the top performers — the “higher scorers” — and the students who will be able to hold their own while carrying the responsibility of being in an advanced music program, where she expects maturity and notoriety.

Ms. Mitchell notes that the program is a “major time commitment,” explaining that the jazz singers commit to a full year in the class, additional rehearsals, and additional outside performances. A primary example of this commitment is the rehearsals that take place every Monday at the beginning of the school year with Miss Amber, their choreographer, to learn the dances for their first performance set. This is done to lay the foundation for future performances. Additional evening rehearsals may be scheduled throughout the year as well.

The program is a steady commitment to excellence. As a 28-year program, the group has consistently proven itself to be an elite and talented assemblage. From Mrs. Mitchell’s experience, the highly decorated group receives a superior rating at their competition about 85% of the time and has never placed lower than second place.

In Ms. Mitchell’s opinion, the group has always been good — “I’ve never had a year when I couldn’t find enthusiastic, talented singers” — but this year’s group, made up of juniors and seniors, was especially strong because many of its members have been in the program for over three years. This additional experience allowed the group to pick up choreography and notes faster, which permitted them to do a surplus of more challenging music and score higher in competitions.

Just this April, the group went to the Fiesta-val competition in Virginia and came back with four superior ratings, first place, and a title of Grand Champion. The group also came back with first-place trophies for the women’s chorus, men’s chorus and mixed choir, proving once again that their talent exceeds all expectations — except for Ms. Mitchell’s, whose confidence in her young performers’ ability almost never waivers.

“People that perform, they’re always striving for the best they can be,” Ms. Mitchell begins as she addresses the group’s achievements, “so to achieve four first-places with superior ratings means they’ve worked really hard all year and they have reached the top.”
The importance of this program is that it challenges students and teaches them important skills for working in groups and striving for success. “Performing in music is a lot like you’re part of a team,” Ms. Mitchell says, “and so you’re going for your individual best and then your team best — it’s not unlike being on a sports team. You have to work well within the group.”
Ms. Mitchell firmly believes that “they represent Paint Branch in the best light possible,” which is important to her as an alumni of the school. She expresses her immense pride in the program, admiring the singers’ ability to work and socialize together, operate as a team, care about each other, and work towards a common goal.

“A team, by any other name, is the Jazz Singers.”

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