CG choir
Hair Moms Ja'Nean Rau and Tracey McMahen with CG student Lily Rau. [Photography Provided]

“Behind the Seams” Center Grove Choir Members

While Sound System and Debtones take center stage as the pride of CG Choirs, there is a behind-the-scenes group of dedicated individuals ensuring that Center Grove High School’s choirs look as perfect as they sound.

These unsung heroes are two groups of ladies affectionately known as the Costume Closet and the Hair Moms. The Costume Closet volunteers their sewing talents to create, enhance and repair costumes, accessories and props, while the Hair Moms help design the look and style of the hair to align with each show’s theme, costumes and overall artistic vision. Their contributions play a vital role in the success of the shows.

Penny Buetcher (left) and Wendy Webb (right)
Penny Buetcher (left) and Wendy Webb (right)

Wendy Webb, costume director, is a 1985 Center Grove graduate, where she was a four-year member of the marching band. Twenty-five years and three children later, she became a show choir mom and learned there was a need for a seamstress. It was a perfect opportunity to be involved with her kids’ passion, while also putting her remarkable skills and talent to good use.

The pathway to the Costume Closet was much the same for the others. Julie Smith joined the team in 2011. Penny Buechter joined in 2013, as did Martha VanBuskirk. Judy Williams and Lynda Branham joined in 2014 and 2015 respectively, as grandmothers of choir members. While their children and grandchildren have all grown and gone, these ladies remain as enthusiastic and committed today as they were on day one.

Julie Smith, Lynda Branham and Martha Van Buskirk

“We started out doing it for the kids but we kept coming back, eventually realizing that we’re also doing it for each other,” says VanBuskirk.

“We enjoy the work, we enjoy this department and we enjoy each other,” says Branham.

For Director Jennifer Dice, their contribution is immeasurable.

“I can’t emphasize enough how valuable this team is to the program,” says Dice. “Their talents, their time, the magic they perform – it’s beyond words. I am always amazed and truly grateful.”

As they gather together to sew and share ideas, fostering friendships and a sense of camaraderie, they also serve as mentors to the students. Smith notes that many times, the students have come to the area for something specific, but wind up spending much more time with the team. They notice the work that is being done, they ask questions and they engage.

“What is impressive to me is that every single one of them says ‘Thank you’ when they leave here,” says Williams. “Every year it’s a great group of kids.”

“A unique thing about this space is that we have kids who find a home here,” says Dice. “These ladies provide that for them. It’s cool to observe the kids connecting with the team on this level.”

As for the work that’s been done through the years, each has several standout memories. One particular project was hand-sewing thousands of rhinestones on dresses to make them shine under the stage lights.

“That season, the choir had dresses that required 3,500 beads,” says Buechter. “That’s 3,500 on just one dress, and there were dozens of dresses.”

Smith recalls being duly impressed with Webb’s ingenuity when Webb fashioned an elegant headpiece out of a lawn fan rake for the 2016 “Opera” show.

Dice was wowed by the telephones that Webb created.

“In a Debtones show, many moons ago, we had these old-fashioned telephones in the show,” recalls Dice. “Wendy went to a home improvement store and found random parts that, when put together, became an amazing, spot-on replica of old-fashioned telephones. They were fantastic!”

The actual Closet is a large room on the second floor of the choir room. Inside the main area are worktables, sewing machines and supplies. Further back and lining a hall is a jaw-dropping “museum” of costumes from years past. One walk down this hallway is like a stroll down memory lane – a reacquaintance with past shows. Directly opposite are shelves housing the accessories for the costumes. All are still very important, as pieces of them can be repurposed for current needs.

Through the years, the ladies of the Costume Closet have created, sewn, assembled, adorned and repaired not just costumes, but also sashes, belts, bracelets, buckles, head pieces, capes, leggings, stockings and even shoes. Anything and everything that was worn and adorned has lovingly passed through their crafty and careful hands. The teams’ attention to detail ensures that the choir’s appearance is as polished and professional as their performance.

The crowning touch is the contribution of the Hair Moms. Once the costumes for the next season’s shows have been decided, Ja’Nean Rau and Tracey McMahen design the hair style that most appropriately and best enhances the overall artistic vision.

Executing this vision is the result of another team effort.

“We are fortunate to have great parental volunteerism,” says Rau. “No one needs to be a professional stylist. We’ll teach them how to achieve the look.”

On performance day, each Hair Mom sees four to five kids in her chair over the course of two to three hours.

“It’s a great opportunity to get to know the kids better and to be part of this organization,” says Rau. “I don’t know what we would do without the volunteer team. This entire program is truly phenomenal. To experience how this all comes together – I am just in awe. It starts with the theme of the shows, the music, then on to designing the costumes, and the choreography. To see it from inception to final production, it’s pure artistry. Jennifer and Jared [Norman, director] are just incredible.”

For Dice, the feeling is mutual.

“Just as with Costume Closet, our Hair Mom team is an extremely valued group in our program,” says Dice. “Ja’Nean and Tracey collaborate with us and Wendy, our costume director, to ensure the students look and feel their very best for every performance. Collectively there are over 200 students in the competitive choirs. That’s a lot of heads of hair to complete. We are grateful to both teams for their coordination, communication and desire for perfection in their area of expertise.”

For the Costume Closet and the Hair Moms, lending their time and talents is a labor of love. They take great pride in seeing the students perform in costumes and coifs they have crafted and styled, knowing that their efforts contribute to the overall success of the show. The joy on the faces of the students, the audience response and the judges’ scores are the ultimate rewards for their detailed work and dedication.

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