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Bemidji High School: Award-winning Vocalmotive show choir adds colorful surprises this season

April James (left), a professional choreographer, spends time with the male section of Vocalmotive, BHS's varsity show choir, teaching them new dance moves for this year's show called "True Colors." Around 50 student performers in Vocalmotive spent three days from Oct. 15-17 learning the entire show's choreography. Pioneer Photo/Monte Draper1 / 2
Diana Pederson, a parent volunteer and sewing and costume manager for Vocalmotive, organized costumes during the show choir's choreography weekend. Pioneer Photo/Monte Draper2 / 2

Vocalmotive, Bemidji High School's varsity show choir, hopes to shock and awe its audiences with its new show, "True Colors."

The 52 singers spent the Oct. 16-18 weekend learning the entire show's choreography in just three days. The show choir season runs from September to March.

April James, professional choreographer from Mississippi, returned to Bemidji to instruct the show's choreography. She worked with Vocalmotive for the past few years.

BHS alumnus and professional choreographer Kevin Chase also returned to learn the show and help new Vocalmotive assistant director Jessie Ladig.

Several Vocalmotive parents kept the Orchestra room filled with food and drink for the singers. Other parents helped with costuming by fitting dresses and making alterations.

Colorful surprises

Chris Fettig, choral director at BHS, says people can expect lots of color and to hear an inspirational message in this year's show.

"I picked a theme about restoring two things - bringing joy back into life after tragedy and finding one's own true colors," Fettig said.

The show opens with the song, "99 Balloons," which will feature a few surprises that Fettig has chosen to keep secret. The rest of the show's lineup includes the following songs: "Paint it Black," "Fields of Gold," "Geek in the Pink," "Grace Kelly," and will end with "True Colors," by Asia.

Fettig said he had been thinking about the show for six years, but struggled to find the closing song to fulfill the show's theme.

"I love designing a show. I tend to create stories that start out smooth, have some conflict, which is eventually resolved in the end," Fettig said.

James and Fettig only meet twice a year.

"April and I see eye-to-eye on a lot of things," Fettig said. "It's been great working with her - she's one of the top show choir choreographers in the nation."

Sing, dance, act

"We're not a sport. We are a performing group first," Fettig said.

Show choir caters toward students who enjoy singing, but it also combines drama, athletics and artistry.

Vocalmotive has four competitions and eight community performances lined up this year. Members practice five hours a week.

A five-judge panel scores the performers on factors, such as dancing, facial expressions, energy, costumes, overall group makeup, soloists, theme and transitions between songs.

"The competitive aspect is nice, but the creative process and learning how to perform and communicate an artistic message is more important," Fettig said. "Learning how to express oneself is as much our goal as giving a good show."

The dancers stay physically active throughout the season. Student members must learn how to sing, dance and act without getting winded. They also learn to work with a live student band.

"I enjoy being on stage and striving to do something well," said Jake Fischer, 17, a senior at BHS and co-captain of Vocalmotive. "After a show I am exhausted."

This will be Fischer's fourth year in Vocalmotive.

Fettig said many students, like Fischer, are involved in both show choir and sports.

"I definitely use muscles I don't use in baseball or cross-country running," Fischer said.

15 years

This year marks the 15th anniversary of show choirs at Bemidji Area Schools.

"When we started, there were only three other show choirs that we knew of competing," Fettig said. "BHS started with 24 kids and one show choir."

Today there is the varsity-level Vocalmotive show choir, the junior varsity's La Voce Ballo, and Bemidji Middle School's two show choirs, Pizzazz and Jive.

"It was a real struggle to introduce show choir to Bemidji," Fettig said. "Since then we've had excellent support from the school district, the community and from parents."

Costumes, travel expenses, entry fees, choreographers and props are all funded by fundraisers and donations. The school district sponsors the team by paying for show choir staff salaries, Fettig said.

Parents coordinate costumes, hair and makeup, building the set, chaperoning at competitions and various fundraising and promotion efforts.

"Once parents volunteer, they are hooked," said Diana Pederson, parent volunteer and sewing and costume manager. "If any kid is struggling, the group is very supportive. It truly is a team event - everybody is involved."

"We have the best parent group," Fettig said. "They are the reason we are still around."

A listing of competitions and event information for all Bemidji show choirs can be found online at