By Marina Renton                    

While for some Andover students, the last week of August offers a chance to indulge lazily in the last of summer, for others, it means athletic tryouts, and for Andover Vocal Music Association (AVMA) members, it means music camp.

Three groups are involved in this year’s music camp, and all will be entered into competitions in the future: Spotlight, the AHS chamber choir, Nothing But Treble, the all-female show choir, and From Start To Finish, the co-ed show choir. All have 35-45 members, and all are run by choral director Mr. Mercer.

Members of chamber choir. Photo by Marina Renton.

“There aren’t too many differences between the two show choirs,” Mr. Mercer explained. “They’re both geared towards…music that entertains, although I do throw some classical components into it every once in a while. Chamber choir performs music that is all collegiate level…. It’s very challenging.”

“We have a really good selection [of pieces] this year,” said senior Mia Gominho, a member of the chamber choir. “We’ve started singing in different languages.”

According to Mr. Mercer, “[The chamber choir is] doing music in English, Spanish, French, Italian, Latin, and Hebrew.”

Mr. Mercer reviews music. Photo by Marina Renton.

“I think we have a really good group this year,” said sophomore Amanda Hornick, who is joining Nothing But Treble for a second year. “The songs will be a good challenge. It’s a fantastic way to combine dance and vocal music.”

Mr. Mercer’s goals for this year include making the programs more educational. “One of my biggest goals this year is to make the programs not just fun but very educational so that the students are actually learning the music that they’re performing not just by listening to it but actually by being able to look at the paper and start to recognize and understand how the music is written,” he said. He also looks for the groups to study more music history, theory, and ear training.

The choirs are slated for a few school events this year, like sporting events and the regular winter and spring concerts. “We’re working on doing more of that around here…we haven’t really done too much of it in the past,” said Mr. Mercer.

Chamber choir members rehearse. Photo by Marina Renton

Last year, AVMA was awarded a $25,000 prize from the Glee Give-a-Note contest sponsored by the Fox network and the TV show Glee. Not all of the money has been spent yet, but the music department has seen some additions.

“We so far have purchased a new Mac lab, which will have the capabilities of doing music theory training, ear training, composing, music editing, music recording…it’s pretty much a full music studio in there, which is what we’re working on,” said Mr. Mercer.

Mr. Mercer spends “many, many hours” choosing the songs that the groups will perform. “I spend at least 75-100 hours listening to music between April and August,” he said. He added that he selects pieces that he likes, and then chooses ones that fit together well.  “I make sure there’s a varied repertoire of music, so we’re not doing all the same type of thing,” he said. “For show choir, I pick out the music based on a theme, and once I have the theme I take the music and write my own arrangements.”

Members of From Start to Finish, the co-ed show choir. Photo by Marina Renton.

“Our program is always open to everyone,” Mr. Mercer concluded. “We have people from probably every different nook and cranny of the school. We have a lot of sports players, people from a lot of different academic wings. It’s kind of an eclectic group of kids down here. We have a lot of fun, and we’re always open to having more people join us down here.”

The choirs have several upcoming concerts. They will be performing at Andover Days on September 15, as well as performing a concert for Voices of Hope, a cancer research organization, on the same day, at Jordan Hall in Boston. Tickets are available on the Voices of Hope website. In October, they will be performing with a nationally recognized traveling a cappella group, as well as putting on the Fall Gala and the Cabaret.

Members of chamber choir and the two show choirs with director Mr. Mercer. Photo by Paul Meehan.