Telling the Truth Behind “Glee”
By Jackson Lewis ’13 | Published in the winter 2011-12 issue of Millikin Quarterly magazine.
Whether they are involved in show choir or not, people nationwide have heard about “Glee,” the hit television show that has made show choirs a hot topic. However, the cameras only allude to the entire world existing behind the glamour. “Sweat, Tears, and Jazz Hands,” an anthology co-written by Mike Weaver ’86 and Colleen Hart, takes a peek behind the rhinestone-covered curtain of show choirs and into the drama and history of this evolving art form.
“I love ‘Glee,’” says Weaver, “but they smooth over all the sweat, show some tears and just stick with the jazz hands. That’s unrealistic, but ‘Glee’ does show how show choirs can make their music meaningful.”
Weaver has become an expert on the world of show choirs through his devotion to this art. Based in Chicago, he collaborates regularly through his company, Michael Weaver Design, with award-winning high school music departments staging concerts, show choir events and musical theatre shows. Weaver has collected many accolades for his work, including awards for directing, choreography, lighting, set and show design.
In 2001, his work was noted by the American Choral Directors Association (ACDA) when they commissioned Weaver to write an article connecting modern day show choirs to Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians, a popular novelty orchestra from the early ’20s.
“The ACDA was created to protect classical choral music against the onslaught of pop music in the ’70s and ’80s,” Weaver says. Oddly enough, the pop music the ACDA shields itself against is the music used by show choirs. “By connecting today's show choirs to this American choral icon, they hoped to come up with standards to measure show choirs by.”
Almost 10 years after he wrote the article, Weaver received a call from his former student and member of the ETC All-American Show Choir, Colleen Hart, who intended to write a book about him. But when Weaver showed her his article for the ACDA for possible inspiration for a different project, the two decided to join forces.
The pair combined Weaver's research with Colleen's marketing capabilities, resulting in an anthology documenting the history and evolution of show choirs through a modern pop culture lens. “I write academically,” Weaver says, “and Colleen twists it to make it fun.”
According to Weaver, the book is not just a chronology of singing and dancing, but the study of the impact of this theatrical tradition, as well as the individuals who devote themselves to it. “It's a story about this group of people who have spent their lives making the world a better place through music," Weaver says, a philosophy he applies to his own work.
“I spend over 200 days a year staging productions for people, and it's about letting people do something they love through something I love,” he says.
Weaver's love for choreography and directing grew from his time at Millikin as a commercial music major. “I thought I was going to be a studio recording pianist,” Weaver says, but his musical talent carried him to his current career instead.
“I earned money for college by choreographing little community productions,” he says. “One advantage I have is my ability to listen to music and understand what it needs to look like through dance. Millikin taught me how to interpret music with a professional eye.”
His undergraduate years also taught Weaver some hard lessons about the theatrical field. “At the time it was tough, but it applies to the real competitive world of show business. There are lots of creative and talented people, but not everyone is disciplined enough to follow through with it.”
Weaver's time at Millikin, he says, gave him the discipline and drive needed to enjoy show choir to the fullest, and make his life, the lives of the performers he works with, and the lives of the readers of “Sweat, Tears, and Jazz Hands,” that much brighter.