Some of you know that I grew up in small-town Illinois and was a choir nerd (and yes, I still live in not-a-big-city Illinois and am a choir nerd). This means that I have witnessed my fair share of one of America's most ridiculous yet earnest pastimes for young people: show choirs. I wasn't actually in one - my town had had a show choir in years past, but by the time I was in high school there weren't enough boys who could dance, so we had converted to a "jazz choir" (but still had to use their outfits because the school district had paid for them, so gosh darn it we were going to wear them, itchy silver lamé and black lace be damned) - but I often encountered them at regional contests. Even at 14, I knew there was something creepy about the plastered-on smiles and jazz hands, and the quality of vocal talent often suffered at the expense of dancing, but at the same time it was hard not to be a little charmed by their eager attempt to entertain - plus, you know, sparkly! So you can imagine my joy when a friend told me that while waiting for her niece's show choir to perform at a recent competition, she saw a suburban Chicago school do a Bollywood-ish (heavy on the -ish) routine.
I hate this, and I love this. From cultural and musical perspectives, they're really missing a lot. I hate the fact that they seem to communicate no understanding of the grand traditions, past and present, from which these songs come. The "namaste" moves are stereotyped. I'm disappointed at how uninteresting and weak the vocals are (the arrangement is as much to blame as the performers). But on the other hand, show choirs have probably always dreamed of Bollywood without even realizing it. Big song productions, the jam-packed generosity of lavish 50-backup-dancer, glitter-clad numbers, are pretty much right in line with what show choirs seem to try to do. And can't you imagine how the minds of some of these kids would have been blown - in a good way - when they saw "Chaiyya Chaiyya"? And I love that they tried! I love that somebody thought "Hey, Bollywood movies are awesome! Let's play with a few ideas!" Obviously Farah Khan and Hrithik Roshan have nothing to worry about, but it still looks like a lot of fun, despite its flaws. Which is exactly how I feel about a lot of the less-than-great films and song picturizations.
For readers who have never seen a show choir, try some videos of the local-ish Mt. Zion Swingsations here or here (go to 1:45 to skip the pre-show chatter), which is what show choirs looked like in my day.
Friday, February 06, 2009