Central Standard puts Shawnee on the map among male chorus ensembles
“There’s a lot of buzz in here.”
Story by Ryan Brown, photography by Tim Anderson
(Originally printed in Shawnee Magazine Spring 2010 Edition)
So says Mike Neff, director of Central Standard, the award-winning chorus from Shawnee. Central Standard, he says, is a “group of young and young-at-heart singers” who compete and perform in and around the Kansas City area.
With a snappy blend of barbershop quartet and contemporary selections and plenty of energy, Central Standard offers a unique sound that is the result of hard work, dedication and a fraternal bond that borders on brotherhood. Founded in 2007, the group originally had 17 members. Founding member Mike Louque came up with the idea for the group on the way back from a choir concert in the fall of 2006. “Some of us got together, and we had a plan,” says Louque. “Most groups get together and sing, then learn the music. We wanted to go the other way-and that made us a little different.” With the end goal already envisioned, Louque and the other members of the group decided to have tryouts to round out members in the choir. “We invited about 50 people to come sing with us,” says Louque. “We pared that down to about 16, and the group evolved just the way we thought it would.” Demographics among the group’s 30 or so singers are varied. Members range from 55-year-old professionals to college students who travel all the way from Maryville and Columbia every Thursday to practice with the chorus; each one has a passion for singing and performing. “Every week we get together and we share our love for singing,” says Neff. “Our members bring their friends to participate, and they are welcome to join us.”
Central Standard has evolved from a basement-singing group to a well-oiled performing machine. In 2008 and 2009 the group won the Central States District Small Chorus Championship and in 2009 it won the Central States District Chorus Championship. Additionally, Central Standard will be represented at the Barbershop Harmony Society 2010 International Convention in Philadelphia. “We strive to be high-achieving,” says Neff. “We are competitive in our singing competitions, and that’s the result of how much work we put into our performances during practices.” The chorus has succeeded in competitions despite being one ofthe smaller choirs. There are 250 groups that are eligible for the competitions, but only the top 30 get to compete for the judges. “It’s rare for a group this small to succeed,” says Neff. “The second-place group had 80 members, and other groups usually have close to 100 singers. For Central Standard to have 30 to 32 full-time members and be as successful as we have been-that’s pretty amazing.”
Preparing to Pop
The group assembles weekly at the Shawnee Presbyterian Church to practice. Under the watchful of eye of Neff, it resembles a team at basketball practice. He puts the singers through their paces over and over until they reach the performance level he wants. “The purity and unity of the sound is what is important,” says Neff. “You don’t want the individual voice to push the sound down. We’re not just singing notes and words. The music needs some attitude.” Neff makes sure that the group functions as just that. There are some talented individual singers in Central Standard, but no one person stands out more than the other. “The hallmark of this group is that our sound has a lock and ring to it,” says Neff. “It’s not like singing in a quartet. We have created our own sound.” After a quick warm-up song, Neff runs each of the four sections through the scales to make sure their pitch and volume are where he needs them to be. Once the singers are ready, they start practicing for their upcoming competition. Neff listens with an adept ear, picking out an off note, a pushed breath or someone whose voice is rising a little too much for his liking.
Finally, Neff puts the group throught a performance that is nearly competition worthy, because, as he says, “You should sing your best every time, now just when the judges are watching.”
With several upcoming performances and competitions, Central Standard appears to be ready to defend its titles.
Lots of buzz, indeed.