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School show choirs finish on top

District performing arts programs continue to shine despite budget cuts that threaten their existence.

April 19, 2011|By Megan O'Neil,

The show choirs at Burbank and John Burroughs high schools finished first and second, respectively, at a prestigious regional competition on Saturday, the latest in a string of successes that has launched the programs into the national spotlight in recent years.

The 17th Annual Southern California Show Choir Invitational in Chula Vista regularly attracts the region’s elite high school programs. The top Burbank High show choir, known as In Sync, and the top Burroughs High show choir, Powerhouse, regularly compete for the top spots.

Powerhouse had bested Burbank High in two competitions earlier in the season and they were hoping for a season sweep, said Burroughs choir director Brendan Jennings.


“Burbank has won the Chula Vista competition for the last seven years,” Jennings said. “But both choirs were absolutely fantastic. I don’t know how [judges] choose, they were flawless. I was proud of my kids. They did a good job, we were happy to participate even though we didn’t win.”

The Burroughs High choir was founded in 1978 by then-choir director Mary Rago. Her former student, Jennings, took over in 2007.

Powerhouse — cited as one of the inspirations for the hit television show “Glee” — has performed alongside Christina Aguilera and Nelly Furtado, and were featured in a British documentary titled “Gleeful: The Real Show Choirs of America,” and on “CBS Evening News with Katie Couric.”

In October, Powerhouse performed on “Dancing with the Stars,” and in February, members traveled to Hong Kong where they were featured as part of the Chinese New Year celebration.

The Burbank High program is younger, but has quickly made up ground. Established in 1997, In Sync won its first national title in 2004 at FAME New York, a major show choir competition. In 2009, the choir appeared in the “Glee” pilot, and last year performed at the “Glee” season premier party.

Peggy Flynn, the district’s visual and performing arts coordinator, said the show choirs are a tremendous source of pride within a community with close ties to the entertainment industry. She likened the dueling choirs to “football in Texas.”

“They are nationally recognized and they are always competing for first or second,” Flynn said. “They are just phenomenal programs…it is like going to a Broadway show.”

Burroughs senior Tyler Mann, 18, is a four-year member of Powerhouse. Participating in show choir enables him the opportunity to not only develop his individual talents, but also to contribute to the larger group, he said.

The cross-town rivalry with Burbank High serves as motivation, he added.

“We love to hate each other, we both respect what the other one does and recognize the other one is really good, but we want to win every time,” Mann said. “I think it has really served this program really well to have a rival as good and strong as Burbank because it has pushed us to get better.”

The two choirs will team up for a performance on June 11 at the Starlight Bowl Amphitheatre in Burbank. Dubbed The All American Show Choir Super Show, the concert will mark the first time the two choirs have performed on the stage together. Tickets go on sale May 1.

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