If you’ve owned a TV in the last four years, it’s hard not to think of the hit Fox show “Glee” when you watch the stage.
The 22 high-schoolers from West Jessamine sing in harmony and dance in rhythm, taking turns on solos as pop songs blend into Broadway show tunes and classic anthems.
From watching the performance, you wouldn’t know the difference between this show choir and the popular portrayals of real competitive show choirs: The trophies of this choir don’t sit in glass cases; they sing and dance and act in their own schools and their own community productions.
You see, in addition to performance, this show choir — aptly named Dually Noted — was formed with a second purpose of giving back to local arts programs.
Dually Noted was the brain child of then-senior Julia Seales three years ago as she wrote about a theoretical leadership project in an essay and then realized the show-choir-giving-back project didn’t have to just be theoretical.
“It was around the time where there were arts communities around the county getting cut, and so we decided that we wanted to give some money back to that,” said senior Andy Burns, now the student director in his third year in Dually Noted.
The after-school show choir has become a place of acceptance for many at West High, said Delaney Carlstedt, co-president of Dually Noted.
“I’ve seen people come in who I had never heard speak before, and now we know each other so well and they’re so fun, and it brings them to life to much in ways that you don’t see if they don’t get this outlet to just shine,” she said.
Senior Daniel Gallutia, who plays drums with three other musicians for Dually Noted, said he could sense the fellowship of the group immediately when he began rehearsing with them. A longtime member of the marching band’s drumline, Gallutia said he has learned how important band and choir can be to each other.
“It’s shown me how important it is for band and choir to be together — that’s what I’ve really seen from this,” he said. “Just the fact that we’re so similar in what we want to do and what we plan on doing.”
Teacher Jessica Slaton coordinates the group, though she readily admits her student leaders do a lot of the heavy lifting. Slaton was in a competitive show choir in her Nashville high school, but she said she was glad to see Dually Noted continue to focus on giving to others rather than glorifying themselves.
“I understood what it would take to be a competition choir, so I remember last year we sat down and said, ‘Do you want to be a show choir that competes, or do you want to be the group that you were designed to be, which is that giving back and really enjoying the arts?’” Slaton said. “They decided that’s what they wanted to be, and I couldn’t have been happier.”
The dry-erase board in Slaton’s classroom still displays the words this year’s leaders scrawled on it at the beginning of the school year, redefining and clarifying their purpose:
“Dually Noted exists to produce and promote creativity, and its members promise to actively search for new ways to give, rehearse with 100 percent of their bodies, voices and imaginations, foster the growth of art in themselves to encourage the group and inspire the community, remember their greatest accomplishments come from creating art and sharing with those in need.”
Looking back on that statement in Slaton’s classroom Tuesday, co-president James Lewis said the final words never felt like a “cop-out.”
“It wasn’t saying, ‘It’s all OK if we just have fun,’” Lewis said. “I feel like at the time, there were a few people who were semi-skeptical of that and thought, ‘No — winning is winning; that’s how you win.’ But definitely toward the end of the year, we definitely evolved as a group to be more about the creating art and sharing with those in need.”
Burns arranged all the music for the choir’s show this year, which focused on a weather theme, featuring the Beatles’ “Dear Prudence,” the ballad “Light” from “Next to Normal,” and the classic “Walking on Sunshine.”
Then a junior, Burns began arranging music the same day he and his counterparts came up with the concept last May.
“I started that day,” he said. “I picked out some music, and the set itself change a couple times. By the end of the school year last year, we knew what songs we were doing, and as I was babysitting over the summer, I actually wrote the whole show.”
When Dually Noted traveled to Lebanon, Ohio, for a large competition with 14 other show choirs last weekend, the West students didn’t make the finals of their division, but they did make an impact. Many of those affiliated with competitive Ohio show choirs made a point of coming up to Dually Noted students and telling them their mission was appreciated in a state where competitive show choirs are losing funding.
“They moved people to tears before they even got on stage just with the fact that they give back,” Slaton said. “That’s so unusual for high-school students unless you’re in a club that is purposefully for giving back to the community, but to take something that’s supposed to be so glorified — the hair, the makeup, the performance, the spotlight — and be like, ‘OK — that was great, now how much money did we make, and who can we give it to?’”
Gallutia said he was used to the competitiveness of Kentucky marching-band contests and was preparing to offer consolation to his fellow students after they didn’t make the finals.
“If they didn’t get in (the finals), I was going to talk to Slaton and see if I could give them some words so they don’t feel so bad — but they were fine,” he said. “They were not upset at all.
Carlstedt said that while she appreciated seeing what a show choir can become with additional resources, Dually Noted had the same enthusiasm as every other group she saw.
“We were definitely underdogs, but this year it was more in size and resources than in talent and passion,” she said. “We all came together so much this year, and you could tell that we just loved doing it.”
Burns said those who look at the West show choir as a stereotype are missing out on a lot of layers of Dually Noted.
“I think the more people would get to know our group, they would have a new respect for us,” he said “I think if you look at us with the mind-set of ‘Glee’ the television show, I think you are really closing off your mind to a lot of what our group actually is.”
And what their group is turns out to be a group that values elementary-school musicals over perfectly coordinated motions and giving back over glitz and glamour.
“Their heart is not in it for a trophy, and it’s not in it for a competition,” Slaton said. “This is the icing on the cake — giving back to the other schools in the community and keeping the arts alive.”