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Defending national champion show choir VIBE performed this year’s show, based on a Noah’s Ark theme, at a cabaret show earlier this year. In March, the team travels to Orlando to defend its title. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Source | Buy This Photo)
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The Daniel Hand High School (DHHS) VIBE show choir has been on another successful tear this year, bringing home three consecutive first-place finishes, with a chance to defend its national championship in Orlando, Florida next month.
After the 2019 season saw the group garner special attention for its interpretation of popular Netflix show Stranger Things, director Ron Soja has led the group a little further back in time this year for an arrangement of the Noah’s Ark bible story, including a rocking, free-standing ark and performers dressed as birds and animals.
Show choir performances are a mix of singing and dancing, often but not always featuring vibrant costumes and elaborate sets, with participants competing in usually invitational competitions at various levels, ranging from state-wide to national.
Lauren Watkins, a former journalist and DHHS mom who has worked with VIBE for the last four years, said the group’s success has been a product of both the student’s talent as well as Soja’s ability to inspire and put together innovative shows.
“These kids would go to battle for this guy, and rightly so. He’s a terrific leader, a great motivator. He’s very humble, and yet he’s so demanding of the kids. And they love it. They wouldn’t have it any other way,” Watkins said.
Lead vocalist Marco Natarelli has additionally won the Best Male Soloist award at every competition in which VIBE has performed as the group has proven its worth against schools from all around New England, facing off with around 10 other groups at each competition.
Brothers and DHHS seniors Dylan and Ethan Richmond have performed with VIBE for three and four years, respectively. They said that their experience performing—and winning—has always been defined by the hard work they put into the group.
“We meet every day after school for an hour,” Dylan Richmond said. “We have night rehearsal. In August and October we have choreography sessions all weekend, which are like 20 hours each, and then we go to all these competitions—there’s so much time we put in. Once you go to a competition and win, the gratification is incredible.”
Lead dancer Hannah Lewis echoed this sentiment.
“We rehearse and work hard nearly everyday starting in August in a constant effort to challenge ourselves and to deliver our best as a team,” she said via email. “I am so grateful for our directors, choreographers, officers, parent volunteers and every cast, band, and crew member.”
The group essentially functions as its own traveling show, bringing an elaborate set, music, and a stage crew as it goes from competition to competition, according to Watkins. The effort requires about 75 students to make the whole operation run.
Richmond said the Noah’s Ark story is more intense and more story-oriented than in years’ past, and has required more emotions from its performers.
“I love both years, but I feel like this year is more artistic in a way, because we have to act and portray a story,” he said.
Though most states don’t have an official sanctioning body for show choir performances and the competitive season can vary in length and number of performances, Ethan Richmond said the community takes VIBE’s shows and record very seriously.
“This year we only go to five competitions, and we host our own, so each one is a really big event,” he said. “So winning them, especially as a captain, makes me feel really proud and accomplished.”
Richmond said that different regions and states have their own takes on what a show choir performance is supposed to look like, with California and New England groups focusing on more story-driven performances while Midwestern schools adhere to what he described as “traditional” purely song-oriented shows.
Overcoming what he described as a bias toward the more traditional type of show is another thing VIBE has been able to do this year, according to Richmond.
“We’re just that good that we don’t give [the judges] an excuse to make us lose,” he said.
After one more regional performance in Windsor Locks on Saturday, Feb. 29, VIBE will travel to the Heart of America invitational in Orlando on Saturday, March 21, competing against seven other schools for a shot at another national title.
Get ready to celebrate the holidays with our helpful guide