Juke box heroes: Greenfield-Central choir to sing with Foreigner on Carb Day

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GREENFIELD — The jump from performing 16th century a cappella vocals and renaissance chants to belting out 20th-century rock ‘n’ roll is quite a leap, but Paul Grizzard knew his group was up to it.

On Friday, the Greenfield-Central madrigal choir will take the stage with the rock group Foreigner as part of the Carburetion Day concert at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The choir will hang out backstage during the early part of the concert and then join Foreigner in one of the group’s signature songs, “I Want to Know What Love Is.”

As this point, you may have several questions: How did a madrigal choir, trained in delicate and precise harmonies, earn this honor? What are they going to sing? And do any of the 16- to 18-year-olds even know who Foreigner is? Stay tuned.

Grizzard, choir director at Greenfield-Central High School, heard about the contest from one of his choir kids’ parents. Radio station B105.7 was sponsoring a contest to send one winning middle or high school choir to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to sing with Foreigner for the Carb Day concert, one of the events leading up to the running of the Indy 500 on Sunday.

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The station asked school groups to record and upload a video to the B105 website of their choir singing a Foreigner song. From there, voting was opened to the public for a two-week period on the B105 Facebook page where supporters could vote once a day for the high school choir of their choice to win.

When Grizzard heard about the contest, he leaped into action. As the strongest of the school’s choirs, the madrigal choir was the obvious choice, Grizzard said. He went to a music publishing website and found a musical arrangement for only one Foreigner song: “I Want to Know What Love Is.” So he decided to create his own arrangement to a different Foreigner song: “Juke Box Hero.” With a turn-around time of about 24 hours, Grizzard wrote the arrangement, taught it to the choir and had it filmed by radio and TV teachers Bill McKenna and Jonathan Hudson.

Once entered, Grizzard checked out the other competition videos on the station’s Facebook page and noted that — out of the six participating choirs — the Greenfield-Central choir was the only one not singing “I Want to Know What Love Is.” He felt that might have had a hand in their win.

Senior Ivy Rowe, who sang lead on the group’s Juke Box Hero” video, credits social media for their success.

“We would post every day for people to vote on the choir page and on Instagram,” Rowe said. “And a lot of parents shared it on Facebook.”

The winner was announced May 13 on the radio. Grizzard didn’t hear the actual announcement; but he heard about it soon after from one of the students.

Grizzard was surprised at how many of his choir kids had heard of Foreigner.

“Several were very excited. Some of them are hipsters and like the older music,” he said. “Some did not know them by name, but when I played their songs, they all knew them.”

From 1977 through 1984, Foreigner churned out hits such as “Juke Box Hero,” “Cold as Ice,” “Hot Blooded,” “Waiting for a Girl Like You,” “Feels Like the First Time,” “Urgent” and “I Want to Know What Love Is.” With 10 multi-platinum albums and 16 Top 30 hits, Foreigner is hailed as one of the most popular rock acts in the world. The group continues to tour and will headline the May 24 Carb Day concert, along with another ‘70s musical group, Kool & the Gang.

Learning of the contest and submitting the video was just the beginning. The logistics of getting the choir to Carb Day include planning around end-of-the-semester finals preparation, the senior choir concert the night before and cutting the 43-member choir to the 25-person limit set by Foreigner’s management.

The cutting process involved determining which students were actually interested in going. Not all were. Then priority was given to seniors. With eight spots left and 20 interested juniors, Grizzard held a Rock-Paper-Scissors competition fill the spots.

“Best two out of three got to go,” Grizzard said.

With these issues settled, Grizzard was fully prepared to go all out with a killer arrangement of “I Want to Know What Love Is,” Foreigner’s signature song — and the one the choir would be singing with them — with parts for all vocal ranges. But guidelines from Foreigner’s manager informed him that there would be no prior rehearsal, and the choir would only be singing the melody.

Grizzard was a little disappointed, but also relieved that his job was made easier.

Inviting high school choirs to join them on stage is something Foreigner has been doing since 2011. In partnership with the Los Angeles Grammy Museum, Foreigner makes a donation to each participating high school. Herron High School and Riverside High School were part of the group’s July 2018 concert at the Ruoff Home Mortgage Music Center as was Greenwood Community High School Choir during a 2017 appearance.

Rowe, who will be celebrating her 18th birthday on Carb Day, is excited about getting to be backstage and on stage with a band she liked before all the contest hubbub began.

“I’ve met people in bands before, but I’ve never been backstage,” Rowe said. “I just know that the entire time, I’m going to be fan-girling backstage.”

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The Greenfield-Central madrigal choir will perform with Foreigner on during the Carburetion Day concert Friday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Tickets ranging in price from $25 to $250 for VIP perks are available at indianapolismotorspeedway.com/events/indy500/buy-tickets/carb-day. Tickets are good for all events on the last day of practice before Sunday’s Indianapolis 500, including the Freedom 100 Indy Lights race and the pit-stop competition.

Visit youtube.com/watch?v=JfhffkSTJbE&feature=youtu.be to see the choir’s winning video.

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