Mundelein High School choir director hones excellence
Mundelein High School choir director John Neubauer works with the Select Women's Ensemble at the school this month. His show choir program continues to win big competitions. | Brian O'Mahoney~for Sun-Times Media
Updated: March 25, 2013 8:40PM
MUNDELEIN — The latest round of honors earned by Mundelein High School’s show choirs is part of a growing tradition.
The all-girls Lights choir, the boys SoundFX choir, and the mixed choir, dubbed Sound, all finished in the top three places this month at the Grand River National Show Choir Invitational in LaCrosse, Wis. The event included show choirs from Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota and Wisconsin.
John Neubauer, with colleague Cory Thompson, lead the teams to their victories. But they also coached the groups when they received top honors earlier this month at the Gathering of the Stars Show Choir Invitational in Holmen, Wis.
In addition, Sound and Lights won national championships in 2007 and 2009.
This week, Neubauer shares how he spent the last 11 years at the school building the 90-student program into a winning force.
Q: What was the program like when you first arrived, compared to now?
A: The program was strong when I took over and now it’s more reflective of my style.
What makes my job easier is that our community has always produced a lot of self-motivated children. That allows me to focus on great content.
Lights started before I came to MHS but they didn’t compete until a few years after I was hired. Sound FX was entirely started under my supervision.
Q: What makes this year’s group of kids so talented?
A: These kids have brought drive into their leadership roles and held others accountable while giving great advice to one another.
School closures from the broken water main and snow day really hurt our rehearsal time, but our leaders did an excellent job in keeping the group focused.
Q: In what area do students work the hardest?
A: We absolutely spend the time on singing. We work on dance the first half of the year so the kids can feel comfortable with their bodies and how to adapt to something new. All the while, we have to be learning the vocals too. Managing these two big challenges at once is difficult for a lot of students, but ours traditionally handle it well.
Q: How much time do you personally invest in these programs?
A: Rehearsal times range around 10 hours per week, except one week in August before school starts we rehearse with choreographer Randy Sage. That’s a 40-hour week for me.
I also make myself available for one-on-one time with students and parents, and then I’m constantly in contact with costume designers.
If I kept a time card I’m sure I’d be sad but it doesn’t matter because these kids are worth it. They step it up and prove they want to learn.
Q: Do you have performance experience?
A: I was in high school and college choir, and I do community productions now and then. I’m a singer, barely a dancer and do some acting. It keeps me in touch with what I love doing and it’s nice to have a different role in the process too. Not being in charge is a relaxing experience.
Q: Recruiting boys is typically a challenge for choir programs. How do you attract male performers?
A: At our junior high presentations the eighth-grade boys get to see older guys up close and feel more secure with liking choir. Plus, they see how many girls are involved.
The awards and trophies appeal to the parents more than the kids. Parents like to see excellence.
The kids enjoy the production, sense of accomplishment and the notion of representing themselves well in front of others. We also have a lot of friendships start here and uninvolved kids notice that.
Q: Can you share your thoughts on the notion of arts getting cut first when schools have financial problems?
A: MHS has been pretty frugal with their money but we haven’t seen any cuts, so I’m not worried here. We’re on pretty solid ground.
I have been through some of that in the past. I was once laid off from a teaching job because of cuts across the board.
I think kids need a creative outlet to be successful in topics they’re less interested in. Some schools put high-profile programs on the chopping blocks to draw voters to approve a referendum and the arts are more popular than most people think. I don’t like that because those cuts usually don’t amount to much of a savings and it only creates worry.