BEMIDJI -- Several years before current members of Vocalmotive were born, Bemidji High School started its show choir program, and director Chris Fettig thought it might keep going for about three years.

Twenty-five years later, Vocalmotive is one of the finest show choirs in the Upper Midwest, and Fettig is still directing. This year’s troupe started its season Jan. 11 by winning grand champion honors at the prestigious Onalaska Show Choir Classic in Wisconsin. It also brought home hardware for best band, best choreography, best costumes and best male vocalist (senior captain Louis Saxton).

Bemidji audiences will be able to see this year’s squad in action during the annual dinner shows Jan. 24-26 at the high school. It’s one of the program’s major fundraisers of the year.

The shows also will feature La Voce Ballo, the BHS all-girl show choir.

Those first dinner shows were held in the cafeteria at Bemidji Middle School, because there wasn’t enough space at the old BHS building on 15th Street Northwest.

We asked Fettig some questions about his 25 years with Vocalmotive.

What’s new about this year’s show?

CF: It’s a typical Bemidji show; it’s got all sorts of exciting colors and costume changes, really exciting music and a great theme. This year’s theme deals with the seasons of our life. I’ve been thinking about this theme for a long time. Our show kind of goes through the seasons, starting in the fall, then winter, spring and summer. The title of the show is “Evergreen.” The one thing that is evergreen, no matter what, is the love that we share with one another.

Chris Fettig
Chris Fettig

How do you choose the theme?

CF: I try to have a message that I think is valuable for our students to dwell on. Whether it’s when you’re knocked down in life, how do you get back up, and what are the important things to focus on in life. All of the themes have to do with struggles in life and how to keep on track. A lot of times the theme will be from a fantastic song that I want to use as the ballad, or the opener.

How many people are involved?

CF: There are 50 singers and dancers on stage. There are 13 people in the band. We have nine kids who are doing tech, costume changes and all the activity backstage. Our captains are Louis Saxton and Heather Werlein, and our dance captains are Makenna Schmidt and Matthew Jensen. We also have Seth Freundschuh as band director, Jess Binstock as assistant director. April James, our choreographer, lives in Los Angeles and is one of the best in the nation.

Heather Werlein performs a solo during rehearsal for Bemidji High School's Vocalmotive group on Jan. 8 in the school's auditorium. (Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer)
Heather Werlein performs a solo during rehearsal for Bemidji High School's Vocalmotive group on Jan. 8 in the school's auditorium. (Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer)

What kind of support does the program receive?

CF: We couldn’t do this without the support of our parent group, the school administration, local businesses and community members. The parent group was started the same year we started to compete as a show choir. In fact, I met with a small group of six parents before we started out on this venture 25 years ago. The dinner show was started the same year. This event has always been run by our parent group and is still our main fundraiser.

When you started the program, what kind of expectations did you have?

CF: They were very minimal. I had a handful of kids, maybe 21, who were very excited about it. We went to Onalaska for their competition with that small group. Our kids were really young, so I thought in about three years they would graduate and we didn’t have a feeder (program) so I thought it would probably last three years and then it would be done. But things always kept happening that supported the program. Moving to the new high school was a big step for us, because if we had stayed in the old building I don’t think we would have had the space to grow. It just seemed like every time I’d get to a point where I couldn’t do it myself, someone would come along, alumni or others, like Emily Paine who has directed La Voce Ballo for 11 years.

What is your favorite thing about directing Vocalmotive?

CF: It’s definitely the growth that happens with the students. To watch them get on stage and develop their confidence and their talents in this area. A lot of times schools don’t provide this type of activity. These kids have an opportunity to get on stage, and when they’re successful like last weekend (Onalaska), every one of them is just part of that, all 72 kids are making it happen, and they’re problem solving during the performance. The maturity that comes with that, the kids learn to be professionals. I enjoy the creativity of it, I enjoy arranging music for it and coming up with themes, but I also enjoy the fact that it’s an athletic activity. It’s very aerobic. Dancing is strenuous. They’re using their physical bodies, they’re using their emotional selves to deliver a message and make music. They’re using every part of their person. Everyone is valued. We don’t have anyone on the bench.

What does it mean to you see a graduate succeed?

CF: It means the world to any teacher. A lot of times people kind of envy the music teacher or coach because they get the accolades if the team or the concert is successful. But none of that really lasts. The most important thing for any teacher … is when that student comes back and says thank you or sends a letter or note, or when you hear that a student has achieved something that I myself could never achieve, but they give you some credit for that. That’s why teachers teach, I think. The reason I am teaching is my high school choir teacher did that for me, and my college director did the same thing. I went into teaching because I wanted to have that same impact or give that back to students the same way I received it.

If you go:

What: Bemidji High School Vocalmotive Dinner Shows

When: 7 p.m. Friday, Jan. 24; 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 25; 4 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 26

Where: BHS Commons

Tickets: Dinner $18 to $20, dessert only $10. BHS Box Office will be open for ticket sales from 3-6 p.m. Monday, Tuesday and Thursday. Or call 218-766-1069 and leave a message.