Elite Cy­press Lake per­form­ers were pop­u­lar be­fore Hol­ly­wood hoopla


Elite Cy­press Lake per­form­ers were pop­u­lar be­fore Hol­ly­wood hoopla

Just as the Glee tele­vi­sion se­ries led to the pop­u­lar­iza­tion of high school show choirs, the re­cent Pitch Per­fect movies have shone a spotlight on the sim­i­lar world of con­tem­po­rary a cap­pella per­for­mance. While the in­creased vis­i­bil­ity has cer­tainly made an im­pact, it’s worth not­ing that choirs have been mak­ing mu­sic in our schools and com­mu­ni­ties long be­fore all of the re­cent Hol­ly­wood hoopla.

Since 2003, for ex­am­ple, Cy­press Lake High School in Fort My­ers has been the home to TAG, or The A Cap­pella Group. Its founder and mu­sic di­rec­tor, Gary Stroh, has shaped TAG into a pre­mier choir. Just last year, TAG placed fourth in the na­tion at the In­ter­na­tional Cham­pi­onship of High School A Cap­pella (ICHSA) fi­nals in New York City.

That achieve­ment seems all the more re­mark­able re­al­iz­ing that TAG is a purely ex­tracur­ric­u­lar ac­tiv­ity for the 21 par­tic­i­pat­ing stu­dents who meet once a week for two hours af­ter school. The choir re­ceives no fi­nan­cial sup­port from the Lee County School District. As Stroh points out, “We are on our own to raise all that we can raise―that’s why we like to go out and per­form a lot. Last year when we went to the fi­nals, the com­mu­nity was amaz­ing with their sup­port. Peo­ple would send us checks out of the blue. We got booked for tons of con­certs all over town that helped us raise funds so that none of the kids had to pay any­thing to go to the fi­nals last year in New York City, which was amaz­ing.”

That gen­er­ous com­mu­nity sup­port has also en­abled TAG to com­mis­sion tai­lored ar­range­ments from the coun­try’s top ar­rangers. “Most of our songs have any­where from eight to 12 parts plus vo­cal per­cus­sion plus the soloists, so it’s not your stan­dard four-part choir mu­sic,” notes Stroh. “I love this be­cause it’s much more mu­si­cally ful­fill­ing, much more com­pli­cated, and in­tense.” TAG, he says, has pro­duced CD record­ings in each of the last seven years.

De­spite grad­u­at­ing over half the choir last year, a par­tic­u­larly steep loss but one that comes with the ter­ri­tory, Stroh en­thu­si­as­ti­cally re­ports that “this year’s crop is just as solid.” The group hopes to re­peat and per­haps sur­pass last year’s suc­cess, al­ready hav­ing won this year’s ICHSA quar­ter­fi­nals.

Thanks in part to re­cent me­dia aware­ness, the fu­ture looks bright for high school a cap­pella choirs in gen­eral, and TAG specif­i­cally. As Stroh points out, “Our group is in its 14th year, so we were do­ing it way be­fore ev­ery­body thought it was cool. But the Pitch Per­fect movie is def­i­nitely the num­ber one thing that has re­ally driven con­tem­po­rary a cap­pella ... we do have lots of kids who have seen us and want to be in the group, and want to get into that world.”

Stroh sees that world as col­lab­o­ra­tion with his stu­dents. And while the spotlight is rightly on the singers who do all of the per­form­ing, Stroh’s be­hind-the-scenes work is no doubt the driv­ing force be­hind the group’s sus­tained ex­cel­lence. “See­ing the fun,” he says, “that they have when they are able to go out, and how peo­ple are amazed and go crazy over them, and to do it year af­ter year, is cool.”

TAG de­tails are on Face­book, Twit­ter and at cy­press­lake­vo­

Pian­ist, in­struc­tor and mu­si­col­o­gist Erik En­twistle re­ceived an un­der­grad­u­ate de­gree in mu­sic from Dart­mouth Col­lege. He earned a post-grad­u­ate de­gree in piano per­for­mance at Washington Univer­sity in St. Louis. He earned his doc­tor­ate in mu­si­col­ogy at the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, Santa Bar­bara. He teaches on Sani­bel.

That gen­er­ous com­mu­nity sup­port has also en­abled TAG to com­mis­sion tai­lored ar­range­ments from the coun­try’s top ar­rangers.

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