The Warwick Veterans Memorial High School Jazz Chorus took home the top prize, $1,000 to put towards their program, as the winners of the Cardi’s Furniture, Cat Country 98.1 and NBC 10 Southern New England Sing Off.
The finals were held on Thursday, March 27, with the Vets Jazz Chorus facing off against groups from East Providence High School, North Smithfield High School and Bishop Hendricken High School.
“It was a great experience to be out there, singing with groups from other great schools,” said Matt Smith, a member of the group. Smith added that even though it was a competition, the groups enjoyed the opportunity to see one another perform.
“It’s a competition, but it’s a friendly competition,” said Amelia Hinsley, one of the group’s only seniors. She said this is one of the only opportunities they have to see what other performance groups have been working on unless they find out when other schools host performances.
Vets Chorus Director Nancy Kennedy said that despite the competitive nature of these types of performances, there is a camaraderie that exists among all of the students.
“Music kids are music kids,” added Hinsley.
The Sing-Off competition began with 12 groups, which was narrowed down to the top eight and eventually the final four. That group of eight also included a singing quartet from Warwick Vets. For the first part of the competition, the Jazz Chorus performed the songs “Tenderly” and “Fever;” for the finals, they replaced “Tenderly” with a group favorite called “Java Jive.”
The Sing-Off is an a capella competition, so the students perform without music. Even without background music, the students add their own style and flair to the performance, something they love about being in the Jazz group.
“There’s a lot more freedom in this choir. The songs we sing, we take them as written and learn them, then we do our own thing with it,” said Hinsley.
For example, during their performance of “Java Jive,” the students perform with coffee mugs as a prop.
“We get more creative input,” said Kennedy.
The group said “Java Jive” was one of their favorite pieces because it is a true ensemble-piece, but the bigger hit with the crowd is always “Fever.”
The Jazz Chorus is audition-based, and the most advanced singer group at Vets. There are only 13 active singers in the group; 10 participated in the competition.
“We work at a quicker pace,” said Donnie Brearton.
The group is only able to rehearse twice a week after school, but they try to practice during advisory periods during school as well.
“We do so much in one rehearsal, you really can’t miss one,” said Hinsley.
Kennedy added that in addition to singing ability, the students in Jazz Chorus have an incredible amount of dedication to the group.
The Vets Jazz Chorus was awarded $1,000 to be put towards their program, while the other three finalists each received $500 for their programs as well.
This was the Jazz Chorus’ second year participating in the annual sing-off. Last year, they made it to the finals and were awarded $500.
Kennedy explained they saved the $500 and will combine it with this year’s winnings to purchase microphones and stage monitors for the program.
When asked what they thought put them over the edge to win this year, they said in addition to being the smallest group with the most movement and interaction in their performance, their confidence and expression on stage likely played a part.
“When they are on stage, they are 100 percent performing,” said Kennedy.
One aspect of this competition the students really enjoyed was getting to see what songs the other groups chose to perform. While the Vets group sung in a traditional jazz fashion, other groups featured songs from movies, country, pop and more. One song that stood out to the Vets students was a Scottish song sung by the group from North Smithfield.
“It was great,” said Hinsley.
So was the group inspired to try a different spin for next year’s competition? They aren’t sure yet, but with only three seniors graduating this year, the young choir is ready to see what more they can do.
“I always like the songs Ms. Kennedy chooses,” said Smith, admitting he would be interested to take on a slower ballad if the opportunity presents itself. “Whatever this group does musically, we can bring it.”
Kennedy added that with a young group, they have time to mature and grow together with their musical abilities.