October 22, 2014 by
Photography by Sarah Lemke and Elizabeth Tape

Insect repellant? Check. Sleeping bag? Check. Top hat and cane? Check and check.

The packing list for youth groups attending retreats at Camp Kitaki near Louisville can get a little odd—especially if the group in question is Westside High School’s Amazing Technicolor Show Choir.

That’s where HerFamily found senior Patrick Sawyer, the son of Sandi and Adam Sawyer, on a recent Saturday morning.

Sawyer was part of a select group of choir members who recently returned from a European tour that included a gig at the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris and a performance of “God Bless America” at the Normandy American Cemetery overlooking the acres of white crosses that dot the scene of the D-Day invasion in 1944.

Sure, those performances and more in Europe sent a chill down the spine of the student who will study architecture next year in college, but his most memorable moment was a free-spirited, slice-of-life scene found where he least expected it.

“We were eating ice cream cones wandering through the town square in Nice (France),” Sawyer explains, when he and a friend stumbled upon a particularly entertaining street performer. Soon the choir members were dancing away in the street, egged on by the busker and the gathering crowd. And the dance they chose that day? “It was one of our ATSC bits of choreography, naturally!”

Sawyer’s favorite number this year is shaping up to be a jazzed-up version of “Ive Gotta Be Me” from the 1968 Broadway musical Golden Rainbow. That’s the tune that had the 50 members of the choir decked out in top hats and canes at Camp Kataki. The group is also supported by a 14-member band.

The vaunted choir competes locally, regionally, and nationally. They’ve won three national championships from various sanctioning organizations. Notable alums include Tim Halperin, the Omaha native who found fame on American Idol in 2011.

But show choir hasn’t always been this way.

“Picture 16 kids in matching dresses from J.C. Penney,” says vocal director Doran Johnson in describing the formula of days gone. The world of show choir was once a decidedly static affair involving all but motionless kids on risers trying to get a rise out an audience. “Today it’s grown to include choreography, sets, props, multiple costume changes…What we do is the equivalent of performing mini Broadway musicals.”

All the razzmatazz aside, Sawyer finds the same kind of camaraderie in show choir that his other friends find in sports.

“When I’m out there performing with the people I love…well, it’s a pretty special feeling,” Sawyer says. “We’re all together—succeeding together—but it’s also very personal. I’m just in my own little world when I’m singing. When I’m on stage, nothing else matters.”

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