After 43 years, Buffalo Grove High show choir to take final bow

  • The Expressions, Buffalo Grove High School's award-winning show choir, performs during a dress rehearsal for its final performances this weekend.

      The Expressions, Buffalo Grove High School's award-winning show choir, performs during a dress rehearsal for its final performances this weekend. Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 5/11/2017 5:58 AM

Buffalo Grove High School seniors Kira Damo and Jake Hackl are heirs to a legacy.

Growing up, Damo of Arlington Heights and Hackl of Buffalo Grove watched their older sisters perform in The Expressions, BGHS' award-winning show choir. They imagined following in their siblings' footsteps. And they did.

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But that legacy ends with them and the 59 other members of the show choir when The Expressions gives their final performance Saturday.

After 43 years, the curtain comes down permanently on the group founded by former BGHS choral director Linda McEachran Southard, a show choir pioneer.

At a Friday tech rehearsal for tonight's opening of the final show, students praised a program that is being replaced in part because it was deemed to have little relevance for college and beyond.

"Expressions has given me

so much confidence," said Damo, 18, who plans to study engineering at the University of Illinois at Chicago. "It taught me how to be a powerful woman."

Director Debora Utley "taught me how to (make a living) doing my passion every single day," said Hackl, who plans to study music education at Illinois State University in Normal.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 
After 43 years, the curtain will come down this weekend on The Expressions, Buffalo Grove High School's award-winning show choir.
  After 43 years, the curtain will come down this weekend on The Expressions, Buffalo Grove High School's award-winning show choir. - Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

Six hours into the rehearsal, the focus was on making this weekend's annual Big Show the best ever. On stage, a soloist ran through her feature number while singer-dancers practiced their moves in the wings and the technical crew members tested lighting. Backstage, muffled chatter slowly crescendoed.

"Your discipline is not at its highest level today," Utley advised from the orchestra pit, her voice only slightly raised.

The chatter ceased and 39 singer-dancers, 16 instrumentalists and six crew members went back to work. For the last time.

The BGHS administration decided to end the show choir in favor of expanding its vocal jazz and traditional choirs and adding a new a cappella choir. Expanding the choirs allows more students to participate and better prepares them for college, most of which don't sponsor show choirs, said Utley, who succeeded Southard 10 years ago.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 
This weekend will bring the final performances of Buffalo Grove High School's show choir, The Expressions, a force on the show choir circuit for 43 years.
  This weekend will bring the final performances of Buffalo Grove High School's show choir, The Expressions, a force on the show choir circuit for 43 years. - Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

Some parents, alumni and students reacted with dismay, saying a cappella cuts out all but the top vocalists and that other high school extracurricular programs lack counterparts in college. Others, while regretful, said they couldn't argue with the decision.

Utley compares the reaction to people working through the stages of grief to come to acceptance. It's going to take time, but she believes they'll get there.

"It's like the family that takes a trip to Disneyland every year for 43 years. This year we're going somewhere else," she said. "And it's going to be awesome."

The end of The Expressions means opportunities for more students, Utley said, adding that the skills students acquired with the group can continue to develop in other ensembles.

The group's demise surprised Buffalo Grove native Chris Cooper, a four-year Expressions band member and 2014 BGHS graduate.

"I don't think anyone saw it coming," said Cooper, a music education senior at Illinois Wesleyan University. "People are upset. They want to see the tradition continue. But in the end, change is necessary. Change is good."

The Expressions, Buffalo Grove High School's award-winning show choir, performs during a dress rehearsal for its final performances this weekend.
  The Expressions, Buffalo Grove High School's award-winning show choir, performs during a dress rehearsal for its final performances this weekend. - Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

What was best for students 43 years ago isn't necessarily what's best for them today, said 2010 BGHS graduate and three-year Expressions member Aleks Zivanovic, a high school choral director in Pensacola, Florida.

"I trust Ms. Utley. She wants to create the best possible experience for those students," said Zivanovic, who credits The Expressions with giving her a lifelong appreciation for music, introducing her to the joy of performing and making her the woman she is today.

Most enduring were the lessons -- respect, preparation, punctuality, teamwork and leadership -- that Zivanovic tries to instill in her own students.

In the end, Zivanovic said, the show choir was just the vehicle. Expressions was always about the people -- the students and teachers, the relationships they formed and the memories they made. That's the legacy that endures.

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