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Wednesday, 07 March 2007 00:00

Y’all come back

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By Michael Beadle

The annual foot-stompin’, hand-clappin’, kick-up-your-heels music-and-dance show known as the Summit Country and Western Show at Tuscola High School will be celebrating its 25th anniversary this weekend.

 

To honor that legacy, this year’s performances, held March 8 through 11 at Tuscola’s auditorium, will include an encore by Summit alumni on the final date, Sunday, March 11, which starts at 2 p.m. The other performances — March 8 through 10 — will begin at 7 p.m. Tickets are $8. Funds go to pay for the instrument upgrades, uniforms, and trip expenses that students need for competitions and out-of-state trips.

The Summit show features some well-known favorites like “Daddy Sang Bass,” “It’s Hard to Be Humble” and “Thank God I’m a Country Boy.” Americana folk songs and dance steps are choreographed by the students with comic antics, live music, couples dancing and solos mixed into the two-and-a-half hour show.

“It’s a tradition,” said Fritzie Wise, Tuscola’s choral director for the past seven years. Some audience members have been every year since the event started. “It’s not hard to fill up this auditorium for all four performances,” Wise added.

The tradition began with Tuscola’s former choral director, David Traynham, who helped organize those first Country and Western shows with choral booster club parents in the school’s cafeteria. It wasn’t long before the event grew into several nights and moved into the larger venue of the auditorium. As musical tastes changed over the years, so did the Country and Western Show. Patsy Cline numbers gave way to Shania Twain and choreography that mimicked country music videos.

What began as a fundraiser, Traynham said, has become a “fun-raiser.”

Traynham, who is now the music director at First United Methodist Church of Waynesville, looks back on those Country and Western shows with pride. Parents, students and different departments within the high school all helped out to make the performances a highlight of the school year.

“It was just such a joy to see the community come together,” Traynham said.

Another tradition for Tuscola’s choral students has been to travel and perform outside the state. During Traynham’s tenure, the choral students sang and competed in Atlanta, Orlando, Nashville and Williamsburg, Va. In recent years, Summit has performed at the Candlelight Processional at Epcot Center in Florida and at Virginia Beach. The parents of choral students have also been a huge part of Summit’s success, chipping in on weekends to help paint Tuscola’s auditorium stage and renovate the lobby area.

“We have a very active choral boosters executive board,” Wise said.

Over the years, hundreds of students have come through Tuscola’s choral program, which also includes an excellent chamber choir. Some of these students, according to Traynham, have gone on to musical careers in Nashville. One Summit student – Richard Helton — even went on to appear on “American Idol.” Other former Summit alums include Nikol Shuler, wife of newly elected U.S. Rep. Heath Shuler, and one of Tuscola’s current assistant principals, Todd Trantham.

Current Tuscola teachers Wendy Rogers, Courtenay McElroy, and Maggie Melville were also in Summit. For Melville, one year in Summit as a senior gave her a whole new sense of confidence that she takes into her classroom as an English teacher inspiring the next generation of students. She credits Traynham for setting such a high standard at Tuscola. While practicing for a Summit show, Melville remembers hearing Traynham tell some of the other students to watch how she sang and notice how she connected with the audience.

“That was a huge building moment,” Melville said.

This Friday, she will emcee the Country and Western Show. That will be the rowdy show, she added. Since Summit requires auditions and is only offered to upperclassmen, it’s viewed as a prestigious honor for many students. This year’s Summit is composed of 20 students, who must audition each year to be a part of the elite group. The ladies are juniors and seniors.

The gentlemen are sophomores, juniors and seniors.

“We’ve got floods of girls,” Wise said.

But it’s a little harder to bring in male singers these days, so they can join in their sophomore year. Kyle Norris, a Tuscola senior bound for Western Carolina University next year, has savored his two years with Summit.

“I like all the different people,” he said. “It’s fun to get to know people. We are a big family.”

That family sentiment is echoed by a lot of the Summit members past and present.

Norris plans to pursue more singing in college along with a degree in special education.

Look for his solo in this year’s show.

“You gotta remember your words,” he said with a grin.

During a recent Saturday afternoon rehearsal, Summit members hammed it up as they practiced their singing and dance steps in front of a mirror. Sarah McCrory, a Tuscola senior who moved to the high school from nearby Enka High School, said she loves the atmosphere in Summit that allows students to act without feeling out-of-place.

“You can be your own person,” she said.

McCrory plans to double-major in music and English education when she heads off to college next year.

This year’s Country and Western Show will feature door prizes, concessions and plenty of toe-tapping entertainment. To purchase tickets for the show, call Tuscola High School at 828.456.2408 or get in touch with any Summit member.

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