Word had been spreading around about Glee for months before I caved in and starting watching. The reason for my hesitation will be explained in due course. One day, I broke down and turned to hulu to get caught up on the first few episodes of the season. I watched them and cried. The vibrant choral arrangements, the spot on riser choreography, I was hooked. What moved me to tears was the reminder of something I spent years of my life devoted to: showchoir. After moving to college, I’d been trying to block it out. Erasing every late night rehearsal, costume change, and trophy.
I lived “Glee” each year I was in high school. People say to me: “Surely there isn’t that much drama!” On the contrary. Much like any large group of teenagers who’s activities are monitored by a group of parental elites (the moms and dads of the “popular” kids), the Hillside Singers had our share of debacles. Through the years girls have gotten pregnant, people have brought illegal drugs to competition trips, there have been torrid love-triangles, parents have faced off with directors. Not to mention the rivalries with other choirs. Or when rival choir directors get fired for sleeping with students. Can you see why writers decided to use showchoir as material? It’s a community filled with extreme talent and extreme troubles. My choir is one of the oldest of it’s kind in the country, as it was established in the early 1980’s. There are many traditions, but the biggest one to see the ax in recent years is “initiation”. It’s essentially a hazing ritual that takes place for first year members during a weekend choreography camp before school starts. The older boys would shave random patches of hair off of the younger boys. Girls could expect to be ambushed by water guns in their sleep. But the big event was the massive snake and poison ivy infested hill that all newcomers had to roll down and climb up. My year, the men had to go in only their swim trunks. Girls could wear as much clothing as they wanted but had to roll down with apple sauce down our shirts and pants. It was all a big joke, right? Kinda, except for the fact that all but one returning hillsider assured us we would never be accepted in the group if we didn’t participate. Administrators caught on and did away with this “tradition” two years later.
Of course, there were favorites. I was not one of them. My mother worked full time; she didn’t have time to participate like some of the other parents. Not to mention that she didn’t go to the same church as my director. Even as a public school choir, we had some kind of christian pop number in our routine each year I participated. I seemed to be the only person irked by this. I spent 12 years in vocal music and 4 of which involved with this particular director. I took lessons from her, performed well in state competitions, shirked other duties so I could be in her showchoir. To this day (though it’s actually difficult for me to admit) I have an amazing singing voice. I can send my soprano pitch to the back of an auditorium without the aid of a microphone. I have made people cry before and not just my mother. At the final spring concert of my senior year, most of my friends received glowing remarks and awards to match. I left the stage empty handed, made a swift exit and wept in my car for several minutes before entering my house. Twelve years of my life were utterly fruitless. I had no awards, no scholarships because I was not a favorite. I went my own direction too many times to be paraded around as one of my director’s obedient pets.
This is what real life showchoir looks like.
(Oh and in the comments of that video, you can catch a glimpse of the rivalry between my school’s co-ed and women’s choirs.)
So, that’s why I’ve clung to Glee, in hopes to see someone like me succeed at something they love. Unfortunately, my viewing experience has been marred. For all the brilliant voices on this show, the ones that seem to get the most attention are straight, conventionally pretty, white voices. The male lead, Finn, doesn’t even have the strongest talent, in my opinion. The actor who plays Artie doesn’t use a wheelchair in real life. Would it have been so hard to hire a disabled actor to play a disabled character? Why did Chris Colfer (Curt) get shoved back in the closet when this role as a queer character was written just for him? As much as I love all the music, I get the feeling that it’s overly synthesized. I’d like to hear a more genuine sound, but maybe that’s just me being naive. Also, there were two different characters who were lying to their partners in some way about their pregnancies. These plotlines perpetuated the notion that women aren’t to be trusted with their own bodies and are out to trap men into parenthood. It’s unfortunate that due to how minorities are being treated in the script, people are more likely to remember characters as “Aretha” or “Other Asian” rather than their actual names: Mercedes and Mike. I really hope that after this 4 month hiatus some of the more ignored characters will get to develop. I’m tired of Finn and Quin.
My apologies if this was long and arduous. I just have a lot of unaddressed feelings on the topic, so thanks for bearing with me.