Sunday, December 16, 2007

Jazz professor is choir's secret weapon


This is not your mother's gospel choir.

Cincinnati's 20-member "Clash of the Choir" ensemble will sing pop, R&B, country, Christmas and a little gospel music with a jazz twist. Think Manhattan Transfer, the Grammy-winning vocal group.

"One of the appeals of this show is that it's an opportunity to take a choir setting and do it somewhat unconventionally," says Nick Lachey, the celebrity choir director and 1992 School for Creative & Performing Arts graduate.


"I want our Cincinnati choir to be known for its ability to do a lot of different types of things well," he says.

Lachey's secret weapon in the four-night TV competition is choir coach Stephen Zegree, the Bobby McFerrin professor of jazz at Western Michigan University. He wrote the lively eight-part harmony arrangements and directed rehearsals at Xavier University.

Photos: Nick Lachey and his choir

"He's the Sondheim of choral jazz," says Kathy Springfield, Xavier theater arts director.

Zegree, in his 30th year of teaching, has drilled the local performers on projection, tone, breathing, facial expression and body language.

"Steve is amazing. He is by far the best coach and director I've ever had," says Nick Wall, 20, of Dent, a soloist for the Ohio All-State Choir while an Oak Hills High School senior.

"Steve is the core to this whole thing," says John Scott, 27, of Covington. "He's very precise. He's the perfect guy for this job."

Lachey says Zegree has a covert plan to impress TV viewers.

"We have one piece - I don't want to reveal it yet - but it's definitely out of left field. It's going to take people by surprise. We're going to blow people away," Lachey says.