- Associated Press - Monday, February 2, 2015

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (AP) - It’s 3 p.m. on a Sunday, and Kristopher Andorfer is quietly pacing one sideline of the gym at Fort Wayne’s Bishop Luers High School, just as a sports coach might.

But Andorfer is coaching a different kind of team. As the music stops, he turns to the two dozen vocalists, most on risers at the other end of the court, with a few words of advice.

“Faces forward,” he says. “Remember to keep your faces forward when you’re walking across. . You can’t be singing in profile. They need to hear you.”

This is a dress rehearsal for that night’s benefit performance by the Luers’ Reigning Knights 2014-15 show choir. The group’s routine is a lot like what viewers of TV’s Emmy Award-winning show “Glee” have come to know: Four-part harmonies, solos, a story line, costumes and dance steps that hit a sweet spot between conventional choral music and musical theater.

Except here, all the singers are young men - and they don’t see themselves as “Glee”-like misfits, even though all-male show choirs remain rare.

Statistics on the number of all-male high school show choirs are hard to come by, says Ed Bauer, publisher of Productions, a 12,000-circulation magazine that covers the show-choir world.

Although the popularity of high school show choirs has grown in the years since the debut of “Glee,” he says, male groups are a relatively new phenomenon. Andorfer thinks there might be about a dozen in the United States and several more in Canada and the United Kingdom.

“It’s hard to get that distinct information because there’s no central gathering place,” Bauer tells The Journal Gazette (https://bit.ly/1HL4R0i ). “There have been female show choirs, all girls, for a while. There are just starting to be more male choirs.”

Coincidentally, one of those few male choirs is at DeKalb High School in Waterloo. The group, Skinny Bois, was featured in an article in the November 2013 edition of Productions.

Andorfer, a Luers grad and former mixed show choir participant who is now the Knights’ director, says male choirs are so rare that competitions usually don’t have a separate category for them.

“We compete in ‘unisex,’” he says, making quotation marks with his fingers. “We usually compete against all girls.”

Nonetheless, the Reigning Knights have been well-received.

Since the group’s inception in 2012, it has won numerous awards, including best vocals last year in a regional competition at Bishop Dwenger High School and second overall - third among unisex groups - in a competition in Orlando, Florida. That event was part of a national show choir competition.

“That first year, 2012-13, was electric,” Andorfer recalls. “We were the only men’s group around. That was amazing. Everywhere we competed, people were just thrilled to see us, to see a men’s group. All the judges, they were quite complimentary.”

Except, says Karlene Krouse, Luers’ longtime theater director and fellow show choir conductor, “They (the judges) would say, ‘Now, can you guys become better dancers?’”

Dancing wasn’t exactly James Slocum’s strong suit when he got into show choir.

Standing with a group of choir members in the hallway before dress rehearsal, the 17-year-old junior, a bass, says he was into athletics - a member of the football and track teams. But being in show choir has taught him a lot about teamwork.

His reasoning goes like this: On a sports team, you might make the team, but you might not get to play much, and maybe not until your senior year. In choir, you’re an active participant from day one.

“With choir, I feel appreciated,” he says. “I’m part of a whole, and doing things that benefit the whole group. . You can see your progress. You can tell when the group is on an upswing and it all comes together.”

Christian Koehler, 17, a senior bass, says it’s a misconception that singing in a show choir isn’t physically demanding. “The choreography can get really intense,” he says.

“You’ll sweat,” Koehler adds. “Sometimes after shows or competitions, people will dance so hard they almost pass out.”

Koehler says he feels he’s found his place, even though being interested in music and performing is somewhat unusual among guys his age.

“You like to sing, and here you’re surrounded by people who are like you and like to sing like you do,” he says. It might be a little tough socially in some schools,” he adds, “but not at Luers.

“They know we’re good, so everybody thinks we’re awesome,” he says.

Adds junior Alex Steffen, 17: “We’re kind of like a family. We fight sometimes, but not for long.”

It’s no accident that a poster in the rehearsal room shows a giraffe standing in the middle of a herd of zebras and reads: “Be yourself!”

“Nobody makes fun of anybody here,” Koehler says. “And if they do, we’ll stand up for them.”

If choir members feel like family, this season’s show is about brotherhood.

Andorfer and Krouse have selected pieces that allow the theme to emerge gradually: “Dance to the Music” - made famous by Sly and the Family Stone, “Benjamin Calypso” from “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” ”Empty Chairs at Empty Tables” from “Les Miserables” and “Separate Ways” by Journey.

“They love that one,” Andorfer says of the show’s closer. “They love it when they can do a good, rocking song. This is a classic rock song, and they can put some emotion into it.”

The pieces, he says, are familiar to students, as well as being educationally and musically challenging. Members of the choir audition for their spots - last year, there were more applicants than spots, Andorfer says. Many of the Reigning Knights sing with other gender-mixed choirs at Luers.

But asked about how much musical experience members have, Andorfer says, “Most of them, zero.”

Nonetheless, members commit time after school at least twice a week to rehearse, and they raise money for trips, sets and costumes. The Reigning Knights tend to go without “the flashy lights and smoke machines and 10 choreographers” of some show choirs, Andorfer says. But he sees the most important aspect of performance as “connecting with the audience.”

What raises the group’s level of performance? “What I harp on is diction,” Andorfer says. “I’m a stickler on spitting out the words, so they’re clear and all the vowels are together and all the consonants come out at the same time.”

Some members have aspirations for musical careers and see participation as a way to “really enhance their opportunities,” Krouse says.

One Luers grad, Mike Oberholtzer, is opening soon in a Broadway play, she says. Another has become a musical talent scout in California and another, after a full vocal scholarship to the University of Michigan, is a professional actor in local and regional musical theater.

Andorfer says Luers has led efforts to promote regional show choirs by being the first program to sponsor a competition 40 years ago, when the groups were called swing choirs. Now, he says, the school aims to help male show choirs come into their own.

When the school hosts the 41st annual Bishop Luers Midwest Show Choir Invitational on March 7, there will be a separate division for all-male choirs. Andorfer says. Three are expected. The Reigning Knights will not compete, as is traditional with host schools, but the group will put on an exhibition.

The invitational is the longest-running show choir competition in the nation, Andorfer says, and he hopes this year’s event will help the men’s show choir movement gel, just as the Reigning Knights’ performances do.

“You know, performance is a tricky thing. Each individual has to find out on their own how they’re going to convey the messages they’ve found in the music. At first it can be awkward to watch, and awkward for them to do, but they do grow into it,” Andorfer says. “They do grow.”

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Information from: The Journal Gazette, https://www.journalgazette.net

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