Jazzmine brings Broadway to Arlington

ARLINGTON — When Jordan Tanguay gets on stage to sing, he lets his muscle memory take over.

“It’s programmed into my brain,” the Arlington High School junior said. “We practice it so much, I don’t even have to think about it.”

Tanguay is one of about 25 high school students who take part in Jazzmine, the school’s jazz choir. Each year the group performs in a number of competitive events, holiday concerts and — arguably what its best known for — annual Broadway-style performances in the Byrnes Performing Arts Center.

The group of students is currently working on holiday music for its December performances, but seasoned Jazzmine members know that the hard work is just beginning.

Once January begins, it’s a whole new ball game.

The students will soon begin practicing for their annual musical stage shows that take place in March. In addition to memorizing more than 65 songs, the Jazzmine students will be constructing set pieces, putting together costumes and mentoring younger students on what to expect.

“It’s a huge mass musical review that goes on for multiple weekends for sellout crowds,” choir director Lyle Forde said. “It is a massive undertaking — it’s like writing your own Broadway musical and each year we have a different theme to it.”

For about two months leading up to the string of performances, Jazzmine students will spend hours each day in and outside of the classroom, senior Kena McClure said.

“Jazzmine literally becomes your life for a couple of months,” said McClure, who joined the group after moving to Arlington her sophomore year. “All the other teachers understand and they know ‘Oh, that kid’s in Jazzmine.’ When you’re working hard you think ‘This is brutal,’ but the first show is worth it.”

It’s not just traditional jazz choir music that the group performs, Forde said. Each year the Jazzmine students, along with Forde, choose a musical theme to go along with their performance.

Last year the theme was “Blast to the Past,” in which students performed a variety of popular music from the roaring 1920s through the 1990s and each decade in between.

This year, Forde said he’s thinking about incorporating music inspired by the world. Sub themes could include popular music influenced by tropical music — “Smooth” by Santana — British music — Blackbird” by the Beatles — and Indian music — “Kashmir” by Led Zeppelin.

Students help chose the songs they want to perform. Typically, there are a number of group songs combined with individual solo performances.

“It’s almost a variety show without the comedy,” said Tanguay, a third-year Jazzmine member. “It’s non-stop music. Total entertainment is what it is.”

Although the actual performance requires a lot of hard work, Tanguay said working with the tight-knit group is worth it.

“Jazzmine is almost like being part of a sports team,” he said. “We’re expected to live up to previous students and it’s like there’s a culture to it.”

Forde has headed up the group performance for more than 20 of his 34 years teaching at the school.

“The group has been around longer than the show,” McClure said. “It’s like a community fixture.”

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