the gleeks

coverwebInventive and just downright fun, our local ‘glee’ clubs rock. We tell you why.

What is glee?

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines it as “exultant high-spirited joy.” But unless you’ve been living under a rock, the word now conjures up one thing: Fox’s hit TV series Glee. Since its pilot episode aired almost exactly two years ago today, the show has skyrocketed in ratings and on the iTunes charts. Here in Santa Cruz, local singing groups have seen the impact first hand. But is it possible that the award-winning musical dramedy could be both a blessing and a curse? You’ll just have to keep reading to find out …

‘Teenage  Dream’

You’ll never find a happier group of pre-teens than the New Brighton Middle School Glee Club. Stop by Joanne Roster’s classroom during lunchtime on a Thursday, and you’ll be overwhelmed by the number of smiling kids who give up their recess to belt out Owl City’s “Fireflies,” The Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Do You Believe in Magic,” and a special (tween-appropriate) version of Michael Jackson’s “Beat It,” called “Eat It.”

“I wanted to give the kids some place to sing,” says Roster, who helped pilot the club in September because of interest generated by the TV show. “It’s not a class, it’s all voluntary; they pick their own songs as long they’re lyric appropriate.”

cover_NBMSgleeThey don’t just sing either. Several students take the wheel when it comes to developing choreography to pair with their songs, whether that means swaying side to side or break dancing. “I’ve been dancing since age 2,” says eighth-grader Barrett Cahalen, one of the choreographers in the “Eat It” trio. “I love singing and dancing, and in glee club, both things come with it.”

While many of the students are proud to say they’ve been taking dance lessons, singing, participating in musical theater, and performing in talent shows for years, there are a number of kids trying out performing arts for the first time.

“My friends brought me here,” says sixth-grader Nicole Dooka. “Since I do a lot of sports and I’m trying to get straight A’s, it’s stressful—this is more fun.”

Their passion for the club is as infectious as their love for Fox’s Glee, but it’s much more than a love for the music and snappy dance numbers. According to eighth-grader Helen Berry, the morals offered in each episode have shaped her perspective on music and life.

“The show has taught me that if you love something, you should do it,” says Berry. “It seems corny, but like [Rachel Berry says] on the show, ‘being part of something special makes you special.’”

That sense of community in the glee club makes age (participants include sixth through eighth graders), cliques and labels irrelevant, according to its members. “Everyone comes together,” says Berry. “We’re seen in a different way now because of the show. It’s not like, ‘Oh, there are the glee kids.’”

Though few people look back on their middle school years with fond memories, Roster hopes the students in glee club will have a different experience. So far, the program appears successful in that regard. “They all cheer for each other and support one another,” says Roster.

The New Brighton Middle School Glee Club will perform at 7 p.m., on Tuesday, May 24 at the New Brighton Middle School Performing Arts Center, 250 Washburn Ave., Capitola. No Cover. 464-5660.


Currently in her first year as music educator at Scotts Valley High School, Beth Hollenbeck wanted to connect with her choir students. So, she turned to Glee for inspiration.

Now, her 13-piece choir holds up its official Glee sheet music—mass-produced by the makers of the series—every day at practice, and sings the hip New Directions’ version of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’.” Though the choir doesn’t dance or have multiple instrumentalists accompanying them like in the series, their rendition of the ’80s classic is a head turner.

cover_ScottsValleyChoir“Many of these songs are from my generation,” laughs Hollenbeck. “It’s always an interesting challenge for me to take a rock song I heard [when I was young] and turn it into a choral arrangement.”

One of the choir members, Philomena Block, was so intrigued by the concept of the show that she attempted to start an actual glee club on campus. While the club never got off the ground, she believes the show’s overall message resonates. “[Glee] highlights different kinds of people and different types of singing,” says Block. “Plus it encourages people to join musical groups.”

For many of its members, the choir is a great jumping off point for musical theater, and, according to member Maiya Moncino, a nice escape from math class. Rather than pigeonhole the group into one genre, Hollenbeck exposes the teens to a variety of music—from Top 40 to Broadway and Baroque madrigals. Their current set list reflects that range, with Irish ballad “Danny Boy,” madrigal “Fa Una Canzona,” Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston’s “When You Believe,” “For Good” from the Tony-award winning musical “Wicked,” and Elvis’ “Can’t Help Falling.”

Hollenbeck admits that Glee can be a little discouraging because she says it’s not an accurate representation of the time and energy that goes into getting everyone on key and nailing the choreography, but she hopes students will remember that the cast of the show are trained professionals who spend hours rehearsing off camera.

“We know that an actual glee club is way different than the show,” says singer Sara Podesta. “But at least Glee promotes and gives exposure to singing and the performing arts—[the show] makes people think this looks really cool.”

Though the high school as a whole has only been in existence for a little over a decade, its performing arts program is light-years ahead of most, with an on-campus recording studio installed last month and having been awarded a Grammy Foundation Signature School grant of $5,500, to be presented at the choir’s upcoming concert on May 17.

“It’s hard to believe I get to come into work every day and do this,” says Hollenbeck.

The Scotts Valley High Choir will perform from 7-9 p.m., on Tuesday, May 17, at the Scotts Valley High Student Union, 555 Glenwood Drive, Scotts Valley. 439-9555.


‘One of Us’

They have never been shoved into lockers or had slushies thrown in their faces. Instead, the Harbor High School Jazz Choir says they’ve definitely experienced an image boost since Glee’s debut. “Glee gets people to come to our shows and makes them more respectful of the performing arts,” says singer Meghan Collins. “It makes being a singer cool, and it makes the music more available.”

cover_HarborChoirThough budget cuts have forced music educator Steve Wilson to combine the Jazz Choir and the Jazz Band, the nine-piece harmony, made up of sophomores through seniors, shines on its own. Forming a half circle in the music classroom on a Thursday morning, the teens sing an ethereal a cappella rendition of The Beatles’ “Because,” a ballad selected by the group, which—though released decades before their birth—sounds completely natural flowing out of the teens’ mouths.

“When we start out with a song, we usually sound terrible, but eventually we get better with a lot of practice,” says choir member Kirsten Rosenberg. “Then, when we finally hit that harmony, it makes you feel free and happy—it’s all worth it.”

Though Wilson says he enjoys Glee, it is the idealistic lack of a learning curve that frustrates him. “I have trouble watching it for the same reason that my brother, who is a lawyer, can’t watch Boston Legal—as I’m sure most music educators would agree,” says Wilson. “[Glee] only shows the actors opening their mouths and sounding perfect; they don’t show the hours of intensive rehearsal.”

When the group is not prepping for the jazz festival circuit, the teens work hard to perfect their pop and a cappella repertoire with covers of songs like Norah Jones’ “Don’t Know Why” and Roberta Flack’s (or, as this generation knows it, Lauryn Hill’s) “Killing Me Softly.” The group says they hope their set list will someday include Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” and The Eagles’ “No More Walks in the Wood.”

Wilson distributes grades and can’t accept anyone into the program without an audition, but he says he believes that music is essential to a young person’s upbringing. “If you give people the ability to make music, then they don’t have to be consumers, they can be creative,” he says. “Music is part of what makes life good.”

The Harbor High School Jazz Choir performs with the Jazz Band, at 7:30 p.m., on Thursday, May 26 at Harbor High’s Little Theater, 300 La Fonda Ave., Santa Cruz. 429-3810.



Though few performing arts programs have escaped the chopping block of budget cuts, Soquel High School’s music community has not only thrived, but also flourished. For the last 32 years, Mark Bidelman has served as the school’s primary music educator, and today, that means teaching 165 teens in four choirs how to harmonize. “We’ve always had a big commitment to music here,” he says.

cover_SoquelChoirFor senior Cierra Costello, a member of the women’s choir and the advanced choir, the opportunity to sing at school is not one she takes for granted. “It’s a good escape,” says Costello, taking a break from rehearsing the introduction to the “Songs of Innocence” by William Blake. “I don’t think people realize how valuable it is to have a class like this.”

Students have to audition to join the choir and receive a grade for the class, but senior Taylor Freeman, also a member of the women’s and advanced choirs, believes it’s fun above all else. “It’s a way to express whatever emotion you want to convey,” says Freeman, who hopes to become a music educator herself. “I love the group aspect, in which you’re able to work towards the goal of becoming one sound.”

Both girls agree that while Glee has an entertaining dramatic element, the show is a vastly different representation of scholastic singing groups. “If I said I like Glee in concert choir, I would get shunned,” says Costello. “People in my class don’t like it because it’s so theatrical, not at all realistic, and they use Auto-Tune.”

Bidelman recognizes some similarities between the series and his students, however. “I watch Glee all the time; we have every one of those kids in my choir,” he says. “We have nine football players in the men’s chorus—and there’s a lot of acceptance there.”

Bonding may seem difficult when you consider that the women’s choir alone has more than 60 members, but between performing at concerts throughout the state and spending hours perfecting pitch, the members form a second family.

“In this program, everyone has to sing,” says Costello. “And no matter who you are, you can be good at it.”

All four Soquel High School choirs will perform in their Spring Concert at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, May 25 at Soquel High School, 401 Old San Jose Rd., Soquel. $5. 429-3909.


‘It’s My Life’

When other UC Santa Cruz students are getting sloshed at frat parties on a Thursday night, the 14 members of Cloud 9—the first a cappella group founded on campus—are rehearsing in the Social Sciences building … and it’s not even for a grade.

Scheduling rehearsals and concerts around classes, the student-led group meets for two hours, three days a week to perfect their sound. To them, Glee is one of their biggest competitors.

cover_Cloud9“They literally do everything we want to do first,” says Ian de Borja, director and choreographer. “But we’re not exactly like Glee—we do really sing.”

To prove it, they deliver a jaw-dropping rendition of Simon & Garfunkel’s “Sound of Silence” with fluid movement and flawless harmony. A heart-wrenching performance of Beyonce’s “Halo” comes next, followed by college favorite “I Just Had Sex” by The Lonely Island, and ending with a ’90s throwback mash-up of the Backstreet Boys’ “Show Me the Meaning of Being Lonely” and *NSYNC’s “It’s Gonna Be Me.”

Attempting to beat the show for song selection is a challenge, but singer/choreographer Hannah Lerch insists that since the series put singing groups into the spotlight, Cloud 9 has only benefited.

“We had the biggest auditions we’ve ever had this year,” says Lerch. “A hundred and one people tried out for five spots.”

The small acceptance rate may seem cutthroat, but members insist it’s necessary to keep the group tight-knit. “If we had any more people it would throw off the balance,” says Lerch.

Besides, the number of people—particularly college kids—who are interested in the time commitment Cloud 9 requires is minimal.

“We have only two weekends off in the next couple months; it’s like another class,” says de Borja. “It’s pretty much the nerdiest thing you can do in college.”

Though de Borja admits the group has been gaining popularity, “reputations” and “being cool” are far from members’ minds. To them, singing is not a hobby, but a way of life.

“A cappella is so goofy and yet people take it so seriously,” says beat boxer Ryan Schori. “After a cappella, everyone hangs out together; it’s not like in sports where everyone’s focused on winning and losing.”

Though training for competitions like Hellacappella in Davis, the California A Cappella Festival in L.A. and the International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella (ICCA), can get intense—“We practice three songs for three months; we’re super particular about sound,” says Lerch—the group certainly knows how to have fun.

“We sing at grocery stores, in our cars, weddings, downtown, parties, anywhere where there’s a piano,” says Lerch. She adds that at competitions, where most a cappella groups perform in formal attire, Cloud 9 has been known to sport all-denim outfits, ugly sweaters and even cross dress.

When it comes to perfecting their craft, however, the group does not mess around. Three of the members—including de Borja and Schori—learned how to beat box since joining Cloud 9 in order to provide a layered back beat so complex that you could close your eyes and easily be tricked into believing instruments were accompanying the group.

“There are so many musical styles and backgrounds,” says Schori. “Here you learn there’s so much more to sound.”

Cloud 9 will perform during Cloud 9 A Cappella’s 10 Year Anniversary Show: The A Cappocalypse, at 7 p.m., on Saturday, May 21 at UCSC’s Media Theatre, 1156 High St., Santa Cruz. No Cover. For more info about Cloud 9, visit cloud9acappella.com


‘Can’t Fight This Feeling’

Whether you admit it or not, by now, we all know who Rebecca Black is. Sing with me: “It’s Friday, Friday, gotta get down on Friday, everybody’s lookin’ forward to the weekend, weekend …”

If it weren’t for her hilariously juvenile lyrics or nasally vocals, though, Acquire A Cappella—a UCSC singing group founded in 2007—would not have a complete set list.

On a Tuesday night, the 12-member group can be found in a small classroom on the bottom floor of the music department building, toe tapping to the 13-year-old viral sensation’s bubblegum pop.

cover_Accuire2What’s remarkable though, is the group’s ability to turn a line like, “Kickin’ in the front seat, sittin’ in the back seat, gotta make my mind up, which seat can I take?” into a soulful, multi-layered harmony.

Mastering a rearranged version of a song, even as structurally simple as Black’s “Friday,” is hard work, however, since most of the members have never taken vocal lessons. Director Pat Wong, the last founding member of Acquire, resolves this potential problem by accompanying the group on piano, and using sheet music, tedious repetition and emphasis on pronunciation of syllables.

“Pretend you’re a British gentleman,” says Wong, as he instructs the group through a reverberating lullaby-like rendition of Eric Whitacre’s “Sleep.” “Practice by pulling out the consonants, like this: ‘eeh-uhh-aww-ooh’.”

After ensuring that every member is on pitch, the group rehearses some of their more college-directed repertoire: Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep,” Kings of Leon’s “Use Somebody,” Nelly’s “Just a Dream,’ and a mash-up of The White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army” and Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams.”

Acquire’s own Web sensation, an a cappella rendition of The Lonely Island’s “I’m on a Boat,” has more than two million hits on YouTube.

Asked whether Glee is friend or foe, singer Rachel Dolkas says, “I’ll be watching the show and be like, ‘No wait, we were going to do that [song]!’” But she admits that the show’s exposure of the performing arts is invaluable.

“We definitely can’t break into song like them,” says Dolkas, of the Glee cast. “But on occasion, we’ll do flash mobs—we once sat down in Noah’s Bagels downtown and just started singing and beat boxing.”

On campus, Acquire members say their biggest rivalry (though friendly) is with Cloud 9. “They’re a bunch of cool people,” says Wong. “The competition keeps us on our toes.”

When they’re not prepping for competitions throughout the state, or recording their upcoming album, the group says it enjoys doing outreach and performing on Pacific Avenue in Downtown Santa Cruz.

“Singing keeps you sane,” says singer Christian Jensen. “It’s another part of your brain that you’re using.”

Acquire A Cappella will perform at 10 a.m. on Saturday, May 14 at Relay For Life at the UCSC East Field, 1156 High St., Santa Cruz. For more information about Acquire A Cappella, visit acquiremusic.org.


‘Express Yourself’

With fizzling music programs in schools, many talented children are left without an outlet for performing arts—but not any more. This summer, Ben Holck, Santa Cruz Performing Arts music educator, will host a “Glee Club” workshop (June 13-30) for young people, ages 6-16, who love to sing and dance.

Inspired by the success of the show, Holck invites all children with the gusto to become the next Rachel Berry or Finn Hudson to sign up.

“Kids love Glee because of the music,” says Holck. “So we’re offering a little acting, musical performance, dance, improv and they can choose to sing songs from a Glee playlist.”

Holck ensures parents that the SCPA staff will make sure the music is age-appropriate, adding that they will pull a lot of Broadway and ’80s hits for the kids to sing.

“What’s great about Glee is that it is re-popularizing Broadway and live performances, and making it accessible to this generation,” says Holck. “We’re thrilled about the show for that reason.”

Beyond learning performing arts basics, like singing a solo in front of a group and giving a monologue, participants can look forward to expressing themselves in a supportive environment.

“Like Glee, the workshop is about spontaneity, creativity, building confidence, a sense of self-identity and camaraderie,” adds Holck.

The Glee Club Summer Performance Workshop runs from 12:30-4 p.m., June 13-30, at Live Oak Grange, 1900 17th Ave., Santa Cruz. Tuition is $400. To register, visit santacruzperformingarts.org. Scholarship applications available on website. 345-5224.


‘Endless Love’

It’s been a year, or maybe 40, since you’ve graduated high school and you miss your school’s glee club—what now? In fall 2010, director Stephen Bigger came up with the solution to your woes: the Santa Cruz World Choir and cover_SCWorldChoirOrchestraOrchestra. A 25-member, 12-piece orchestra made up of high school through adult members, the group is winding up its first season to rave reviews.

“I was teaching choir and theatre at Aptos High and looking at budget cuts in schools—once those programs go down, or once you finish school, then what?” says Bigger. “With our community group, we can go beyond graduation.”

Determined to fill the niche for life post-glee, Bigger’s choir and orchestra performs a world music mix, featuring ancient and modern music from various genres around the globe.

“It’s a good opportunity for students while in school and after,” says Bigger. “There’s a multi-generational mix, with parents singing with their kids by their side, music teachers and people who just like to sing—we even have a lady in her 70s.”

Though Bigger is the first to admit that sometimes classical musicians turn their noses up when it comes to pop and contemporary music, he says he appreciates what Glee is doing for singing groups.

“The show’s bringing awareness about the arts,” says Bigger. “Glee shows that it can be an exciting thing—choir isn’t boring.”

He encourages all former gleeks or gleeks at heart to audition for the World Choir and Orchestra. “We extend the regular educational system,” says Bigger. “You can still go on to get a job, but continue pursuing music.”

The Santa Cruz World Choir and Orchestra will perform “Lights on the Horizon” at 7:30 p.m., on Sunday, May 15, at The Rio Theatre, 1205 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz. $15/adv, $20/door. 521-3470. santacruzworldchoir.com.


‘Don’t Stop Believin’

When Chris Crawford founded Acquire A Capella while attending UCSC in January 2007, he didn’t know any other singers. So, once it was time for auditions, he convinced a bunch of friends to attend to make the club look well established. It wasn’t until the first rehearsal that the new recruits found out that he was the club’s only other member. Two weeks later, they had their first performance.

Flash forward four years, and Crawford, who has a degree in piano and business, is the head of A Cappella Records, a label headquartered in San Francisco that represents nearly 50 a cappella groups, including Acquire.

“There’s something about singing and arranging music that’s so fun,” says Crawford. “There are so many interpretations of every song, and that’s really the bread and butter of the a cappella world.”

To Crawford, Glee is the best thing that could have happened to his record label and a cappella music, in general. Thanks to the series—and the NBC show “The Sing Off,” on which four of the 10 a cappella groups competing represented A Cappella Records—more people are taking notice of the artists his company represents and their near 1,400 tracks—from heavy metal, to pop, to hip-hop—on iTunes.

“It takes a lot of training and skill to do a cappella; Glee makes the music accessible and makes it seem cool,” says Crawford. “With more groups singing, the talent will increase.”

Citing the success of The New Direction’s Season 2 competition, The Warblers, on the iTunes charts, “We have a whole catalog of songs just like that,” says Crawford. “People listen and say, ‘This is a song I know, in a vocal arrangement I like.’”

Launched with the intention of bringing more a cappella music onto the iTunes store, A Cappella Records supports a number of scholastic groups by taking care of their music licensing, legal liabilities, tax issues, and more for them at a reasonable cost.

“It’s such a different type of educational experience,” Crawford says of glee clubs. “In the old days, it used to be music or sports; now you can do both and schools are supportive of that.”

His words of advice to everyone who loves to sing in the shower? “Find a performance art where you can be yourself,” says Crawford, “and be as ridiculous as you want.”

For more information about A Cappella Records, visit acappellarecords.com.

New Brighton Middle School Photo: Jenna Brogan
The Scotts Valley High Choir
The Harbor High School Jazz Choir
Soquel High School Choir
Cloud 9 Photo: kelly vaillancourt
Acquire A Cappela Photo: kelly vaillancourt
Santa Cruz World Choir and Orchestra

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