One day before their first show in November, the members of St. Joseph’s Collegiate Institute Swing Choir rushed to get their set together.
Emotions ran high as they stumbled over lyrics, stepped on each other’s feet, and rushed through songs. As the six-hour day raged on, the toll it was taking on each of the kids was becoming more visible. Their dances were a little slower, their voices a little quieter, but one thing remained intact: their spirits.
St. Joe’s Swing Choir is a "missionary group that just happens to sing and dance," said Jesse Brodka, senior at St. Joe’s and business president of the choir. The 33-person group is made up of boys from St. Joe’s and girls from six schools in the area, and is accompanied by a seven-person band.
The choir travels to nursing homes, schools and anywhere that people could use some cheering up. For most of the members, those people are the reason why they do it, and the reason they kept their spirits high.
"It’s about the ‘we,’ not the ‘me,’ " Jesse said. "We are here for others. This is not a group for people who are out for themselves, for their ego. This is a group centered on taking whatever gifts you have, building them to the best of your ability and giving it to others," he continued.
"Do it for the kids," said Michael Hooker, vocal director. The reminder was enough to keep the choir pushing through the day. And even when they were too tired to keep going or the corrections got too intense, someone would just say it again and then they could push through.
Fast-forward a couple months, after several performances and many rounds of three-nights-a-week rehearsal. It was time for their annual dessert show, an event that raises funds to cover the cost of the trips the choir takes to reach people with their ministry.
Unlike the choir’s regular shows in that members have a chance to audition and perform solo or group acts, Dessert Show is the choir’s biggest spectacle of all. With colored lights, smoke machines and costume changes, the show allows the kids to put on a full production. But for them, the magic isn’t what happens on stage.
"I actually didn’t know most of the kids when I first joined swing choir, but now that I’ve known them, I can’t imagine my life without them," said Natalie Bucholtz, senior at Iroquois High School. "You couldn’t have planned it or forced it if you tried. Everybody is just so kind and so genuine and just cares about each other so much," she added.
The family that the kids of Swing Choir have created is exactly that. The deep bonds they’ve developed are evident in everything they do, from sharing laughs over the smallest jokes to listening to each other during their toughest times.
"We’re all a bunch of angsty teenagers, and we need to get our feelings out. Swing Choir is a safe haven for us to get those feelings out and it has a great benefit to all of us," said Joseph Marciniak, a junior at St. Joe’s.
In order to make sure that everybody has a chance to share what they have to and get the support that their peers supply, the choir ends each rehearsal with a 30-minute prayer circle, during which they can get their feelings out.
"There’s nothing quite like prayer circle," Natalie said. "I wish I could do it with all my friends and family. It just bonds everybody so closely, and I almost don’t have words to describe it because it’s such a feeling of love and we just trust each other and are there for each other."
Even in the masculine setting of St. Joe’s, the choir members do their best to make sure everyone has a place to be exactly who they are.
"You can’t even describe the relationships," Jesse said. "We’ve been called a cult before, the sing choir cult. It’s a very huggy group, especially in St. Joe’s, where it’s a very manly atmosphere, where it’s all this macho-ness. Everyone can be exactly who they are without being judged or condemned for anything, and that’s really the staple of the social aspect of this choir," he said.
The choir is rooted deeply in God, but even those whose religion doesn’t have as strong as a presence in their lives are welcome.
"I really like music, and these guys really like music, and even though God is a big part of the choir and I’m not religious, I can still feel a connection to everyone through the music," said sophomore Liam Allen.
With it’s no-judgment policy, the choir members don’t care what your personal decisions are. As long as you’re doing good, that’s all that matters.
"Swing Choir is so much more than just singing and dancing. The attention is always taking your talents and using them for good," Jesse said.
Doing good is exactly what the choir plans to keep doing. But what might not be as evident to them, is that they’re not only doing good for the people they touch through the music, they’re doing good for each other.
Emily Bingham is a sophomore at Mount St. Mary Academy.