Column: Understanding NHS Show Choir Culture


The beautiful Janae Owens, Class of 2022 (center), and me, looking insane right in front of her.

Ella Mainville, Student of Journalism

Deep in the corners of the music suite, a group of students roam the mirror room, dancing in unison and preparing relentlessly for what may be seen by many as cult-like competitions. Actually, the mirror room is not big enough for a full set of risers. Hold, please! Let me try this again.

After carrying the risers to Pickard lobby, the cafeteria, or the commons furthest away from the mirror room, a process that can take 15-20 minutes . . . wait. Seriously? We have to take the time to set up our rehearsal space before we can actually do anything?

Give me one more go.

In seemingly random locations around Amstrong, NHS’s most niche group of students (besides Touch of Class, who keep themselves well hidden) are on the prowl every Monday and Thursday night, rehearsing the same five songs again and again for a majority of the year and wearing obnoxious red and white striped shirts to school before each performance. I am one of these people. I am a show choir kid.

No, it is not like the show Glee Not that much like Glee, at least.

But, with a heavy heart, I do agree that Glee star Rachel Berry says it best. From the Glee Fandom Wiki’s collection of Rachel Berry quotes: “There is nothing ironic about show choir!”

For better or worse, I am still not sure, I have allowed the culture of show choir to completely meld into my mind and body for the past three years and counting. I completed two years of “Act II,” which is the prep group, and I am in my second year of “Vintage” — the varsity group. 

If I do say so myself, show choir deserve so much more love and recognition that it gets. Learning about a soul who subjects themselves to the activity for four years is the first step to both better comprehension and better appreciation of the music culture at NHS.

Disclaimer: yes, show choir is a difficult physical activity– wait! Do not click off this story! Hear me out for a second. Nowhere will I be making the argument that show choir is a sport. I just figured I should let the people know that I agree before I continue.

With that out of the way, let me begin with the basics of what show choir is.

A sport —


Show choir is a competitive . . . physical activity . . . that includes the performance of choral music and choreography. Wow, that is a big word! Choreography! Whatever could it mean?

According to’s definition, choreography is “the art of composing ballets and other dances and planning and arranging the movements, steps, and patterns of dancers.”

Okay, not ballets. Consider show choir in the “other dances” category. In simple terms, choreography is dance. We sing and dance at the same time. That is it.

Both “Act II” and “Vintage” prepare their sets, or shows, starting in August and September respectively. We have hired choreographers who choreograph the songs and teach us the choreography (that is a mouthful, huh?) at the beginning of the year, and we then practice and clean what we learned for the Opener concert in November and competitions starting in January and ending in March.

Competitions are a big pull for many people who do show choir. A panel of judges score each set, and there are weird ways that choirs can be placed, but for the most part, the choir with the most points wins Grand Champions. But wait, the winner is not actually always the winner. Plot twist! The top six highest scoring groups from daytime performances perform their set again in what is called “Finals,” where each of the top six groups is scored again. Then the winner of that is the competition’s Grand Champs. Second place is then called first runner up, third is second runner up, so on and so forth.

Just for a little bit of context, finals happen around 7-9 p.m. Typically, we are not on the bus to go back home until around 11:30 p.m. Also, typically, our competitions are two or three hours away, meaning that we get back to school at ungodly hours of the morning and unload the bus in a sleepy daze. 

Competitions are a chance to see other school’s sets, get critique from judges, meet people from across the Midwest, and be on such a high adrenaline rush the entire day that results in a strange mix of emotions that include crying, being so mad because we totally should have beat that other group in daytime, being so amazed watching said group perform in finals because they are so good, and crying again.

Got it? Great!

(By the way, that last part might just be a me thing. Conclusion unclear. I am also aware that crying is not an emotion.)

Now that I have unpacked a long basic understanding of show choir, let’s get to some finer details.

First, the all powerful

This website includes a list of every competition throughout America, every choir across the country, who will be attending what competition, and each choir’s placements in years past. It truly is a gold mine for any person interested in how groups are doing.

From’s list of Wisconsin choirs, anybody can know anything about any of the 163 high schools in the state. How else would I know that in 2020, Chippewa Falls High School’s “Chi-Hi Harmonics” placed 5th at “North St. Paul Rock the North!”?

Be wary, however, when traveling the lonesome roads of the competitions list. The predictions pages are the most dangerous sight to encounter, as they are typically unfounded and submitted by students and other members of the show choir community who have little accountability. Comments are also scary sometimes. Usually it is a mysterious admin commenting a list of who is going to a competition, but occasionally an argument breaks out. In that case, grab some popcorn and sit back, but do not engage. People who actively comment on the site can be dangerous parents who will stop at nothing to argue with an admin. 

The comment section of “De Pere: Let’s Jam’s” page from 2022 never fails to make me laugh. “Jeff, the vibe of your comment makes me think you missed the point…” paired with “The vibe of your comment makes me think you may be new to show choir…” is such a hilarious internet interaction, only found on the best:

Traversing group’s placements and how they placed against different groups for that year is a better way to go about it, but be careful when formulating predictions. Anything can happen at a competition, and the gospel of is not always reliable when trying to compare two groups who have never competed against each other.

Alright, to continue with the fine details, it is time for the last important part of show choir culture: vocabulary. There is a test on Tuesday, so please make sure to study.

The most commonly confused word is blocking.’s definition says that blocking is “a number of small pieces of wood for filling interstices, or for spacing, joining, or reinforcing members.” Show choir took that spacing idea and ran with it. In our world, blocking is how singers are spread out on the risers. A better word might be formations.

Keep show choir members’ well-being in mind if they talk about “getting blocking.” Even though no spot is technically bad per say, many can get incredibly competitive when it comes to getting spots in the front. It is just their primal show choir urges, no biggie!

The second term to know is risers. This is especially important at Neenah, because we have to move them before and after every rehearsal, which sucks (It really is not actually that bad). The risers are the ascending platforms that we perform on. They are big and heavy and a pain to move, but future NHS show choir members should look forward to the new high school where a room big enough to accommodate a full set of risers will exist at last.

I already mentioned this term earlier, but definitely need to elaborate. A set is the series of songs, typically five or six, that a show choir performs. We get one at the beginning of the year that we compete with, called the competition set. 

Facials are not a relaxing spa treatment in show choir, though I wish they were. They are quite the opposite, in fact — as facials are the exaggerated facial expressions performers use onstage so that a far-away audience clearly sees their smiles and eyes. Facials are the reason for performance photos capturing the most insane expression on people’s faces.

Finally, cleaning is another term used commonly in a show choir kid’s life. Cleaning is not the process of physically scrubbing something clean, that would be strange to see at a show choir rehearsal. What would we be cleaning? Please, indulge me. I am curious.

Cleaning is the process of making sure everyone’s dancing looks precisely the same. The angle that an arm is supposed to be at, if we are using fists (self explanatory), blades (hands with the fingers all together) jazz hands (self explanatory, I hope) or shaking jazz hands (also self explanatory, I hope), and the clarification of moves and styles are all things done at cleaning rehearsals. Cleaning is an incredibly long process, but an important one if we want to get any points at competition.

I think those are all the basics of vocabulary. Also, the basics of everything. 

If anything should be taken away, it is that show choir kids are incredibly competitive souls who love what they do, but have a knack for complaining about it.

In the end, show choir is a sport —

Stop. Please stop.

In the end, show choir is an activity that should be appreciated much more than it actually is at NHS. So please, stop and think before the words “where’s Waldo?” begin to slip. We are people too, we think. Not just a cartoon character.