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Making a Glee-ful noise

RAVENSWOOD, W.Va. -- Joyce Pitchford said her high school choir students feel like the "Landau of Ravenswood."

"If he can do it, then so can we," the musical director of 38 years at the school said Friday.

Pitchford's choral students are competing in the "Glee Give A Note" campaign for a chance to win some cash to help their choral program. The creator and producers of "Glee" -- a Fox TV comedy that follows the lives of students in a high school glee club in Ohio -- and the National Association for Music Education sponsored the contest for struggling music programs all across the country.

Winners in five regions will split $1 million in prize money. Each region will have 12 winners of $10,000 and two winners of $25,000, in addition to three national winners of $50,000.

Ravenswood and Bridgeport high schools, the only two West Virginia schools in the contest, are competing in Region 4, which includes schools as far away as Alabama and Florida.

As of Friday evening, Ravenswood High School had the fifth-most votes in the country out of nearly 400 entries, with 22,330 votes cast in its favor -- something Pitchford says is amazing for a school that almost didn't make the entry deadline.

"I didn't even know about the competition," she said with a laugh. The students heard about it from a parent and put together an entry video the weekend before it was due.

"We just made it."

Arts and music programs have been on the chopping block for many schools around the country in recent years, a situation made worse by the recent economic downturn.

Although Pitchford said the music program at Ravenswood has not had any cuts yet, she said it's a real possibility.

"Our budget this year is almost $30,000, and that is just with music and travel," she said. "It's hard to come up with that kind of money."

 If the school advances to the "Glee Give A Note" finals, any prize money could mean breathing new life into the program.

Pitchford said the money would be used to replace worn-out items the team has been using since as far back as the 1980s, including sound equipment, musical arrangements, lighting and performance outfits.

"Money is really tight around Ravenswood because of the [Century Aluminum] plant shutting down. The economy is just awful and I just think it would take a huge burden off the families and the kids in the choir to let us enjoy it instead of worrying about . . . the funds for new microphones, new outfits even," said junior Andrew Ely. "I mean we've used the same outfits for 25 years.

"It's just getting to the point where it shouldn't be like it is. And it's simply because of money. That's the only reason."

Money for the choral programs is part of the school budget -- something Ely said makes the Ravenswood program unique.

"Other schools charge their kids, and we don't," he said.

Ely, who was featured in the school's contest entry video, has been part of the music program since he was a freshman and said he started because the choir "is a blast. Getting on stage and performing isn't really like anything else."

He said he wants to make sure that "Glee"-ful feeling stays, and the money from the contest could put some minds at ease.

"Students are just heavily worried about where the program is going, how we are going to get stuff," Ely said. "It's just nerve-wracking."

Senior Ashley Mullins started performing in the show choir, Rave Revue, when she was a sophomore. Although any potential prize money would benefit the program after she is gone, the people in it "are pretty much like my family," she said. "Them getting the money would be just as exciting as if we were getting it."

For Mullins, also a cheerleader and a majorette, being in show choir gives her another way to express who she is as a student.

"It's something that, once you get in to it and you learn to love it . . . it keeps kids out of trouble," she said. "And it's an outlet for a lot of kids."

Jordan Sheets, a junior, agreed that the music program is "a giant family. It's a good way to make friends, and it makes high school a lot easier when you are well-rounded."

Pitchford said that even if the program doesn't win, just the experience of the competition has been great for the community.

"It has been such an emotional uplift. I've got chills right now thinking about how people are supporting this. So if we don't win anything -- you know what? -- we don't win it, but it has been a good ride. It has been so much fun," she said.

"This has given publicity to the whole state. It's not about Ravenswood. It's about every show choir in our state because the economy is such that we all need this support."

Voting ends at 11:59 p.m. Monday. People can vote once a day from their smart phones or personal computers at www.gleegiveanote.com.

The total number of votes is part of the final judging criteria as well as relevance to music education, originality, creativity and emotional and inspirational reaction to the entrant's video.

Winners will be announced Dec. 15.

Reach Kathryn Gregory at kathryng@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5119.


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