By Kat Worrall
What makes a good All-University Sing act great?
Judges look at five main elements — entertainment value, musical quality, choreography, theme development and creativity. While most top acts have a solid combination of all five, there is often one that dominates the others — an exceptional soloist, a never-before-seen dance trick or maybe a tear-jerking theme.
As the 61st Sing begins, Baylor’s professors, alumni and current Sing chairs take a look back on the best acts of the past and what element made those acts excel.
Entertainment value is the largest category for judges, and that is what Grant Clinkingbeard, one of Phi Kappa Chi’s Sing chairs, believes was best about his favorite act, Kappa Kappa Gamma and Kappa Sigma’s 2008 first-place act, “On the Town.” Their act centered on a night out dancing after navy officers returned from a tour, Clinkingbeard said.
“They did a fantastic job of keeping me entertained the entire time,” Clinkingbeard said. “There was always something going on and never a lull. I felt like I was at wherever it was that they were dancing and having fun.”
Kappa Kappa Gamma and Kappa Sigma quickly moved their combined dancers on and off stage. Even 10 to 15 seconds of transition can bore an audience and hurt entertainment value, Clinkingbeard said. With Phi Kappa Chi partnering with Pi Beta Phi this year, he has used that act as inspiration on how to avoid an empty stage during transitions and keep the audience engaged.
“When it was over, it felt like it just started because you had been entertained the entire time,” Clinkingbeard said.
Sing Alliance president Kellie Hooker also saw a high level of entertainment in another first-place act, Kappa Omega Tau’s 2010 “The Toys are Back in Town.”
“No matter how much you know the choreography and it’s clean, if you’re not having fun with it and not bringing the energy – that’s what took it from a good act to a really great one,” Hooker said.
Hooker, who as costume chair for Sing Alliance designs their costumes, also enjoyed Kappa Omega Tau’s creative spin on “Toy Story” and the costumes for each character, like the army men, raggedy Andy dolls and the cowboys.
“You knew exactly what they were,” Hooker said. “The costumes made it feel that much more real.”
Creativity is what set apart 1975 graduate and Roots owner Barby Williams’ favorite act. Williams has many favorite Sing memories, like seeing her son’s solo during his Phi Gamma Delta act and witnessing her Greek alma mater, Kappa Kappa Gamma, do their signature move, “Kappa arms,” for the first time.
However, her favorite was the first-place 1973 act by Phi Kappa Alpha – now known as Sigma Alpha Epsilon – titled “Sgt. Pepper’s Make Your Own Kind of Music Down by the Bandstand Smiling Singing Band.”
The act was based off the 1967 Beatles album, “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” and Phi Kappa Alpha dressed like a band just as the Beatles had on the album cover. What made the act stand out at the time was it had a band on stage with members playing Beatles music with the drums and trumpet, Williams said. Instead of crisp movements, Phi Kappa Alpha’s choreography was also more lively, she said.
“When you have Beatles music, you have to do something fun,” she said.
Alpha Tau Omega’s head sing chair Pierce Shivers drew choreography inspiration from Sigma Chi’s 1984 first-place act, “Basement Full of Blues.” Sigma Chi’s charter at Baylor was dissolved in 2010 due to violations.
“I saw it last year when we were planning our saloon act and we wanted to take a few elements from them,” Shivers said. “It’s really fast paced and very entertaining. There’s never a dull moment.”
Male dancers are often considered “lesser dancers” than female dancers, Shivers said, but seeing the Sigma Chis doing such a fast, clean and difficult dance impressed him. Sigma Chi even performed the act at the halftime of a sold-out Dallas Mavericks game and received a standing ovation from the crowd at Reunion Arena, according to the 1985 Round Up.
“I’ve watched a lot of Sing acts all the way back to 1980 and that act was ahead of its time dance-wise and choreography-wise,” Shivers said. “I’d say in recent years we’ve seen a really big dance element added to sing and that act in 1984 had all of those things when maybe others didn’t. That’s what I think set it apart.
Just as Shivers views Sigma Chi’s act as a dancing breakthrough for men’s groups, Dr. Bradley Lail, assistant professor of accounting and 1998 alumnus, said his favorite act, Kappa Alpha Theta’s 1996 “All in a Day’s Work,” introduced a new style of dancing for women’s groups.
“What was interesting to me back then was the girls were always good, but it was always the guys that either knocked your socks off or made you laugh because it was so bad – but they knew it was bad too,” he said.
Kappa Alpha Theta’s firefighter themed act was full of drama, lighting and scenery, but it was their more powerful, masculine form of dancing that captured Lail.
Theta did not place in the top three but did go to Pigskin Revue, which was a shock to many of the students who believed it was a top three act, Lail said
Shannon King, a Kappa Kappa Gamma Sing chair, said she the theme development helped Kappa Sigma’s 2013 “United We Stand” act tie for first-place.
“With theme development, people always say, ‘Aim your act so that a 5-year old understands,” King said.
The theme does not have to be detailed or intense, just understandable, she said said.
“People just have to connect to it,” King said. “That theme did, even though it was about the American Revolution. I think people can connect to military at all times.”
Kappa Sigma’s mix of intense choreography and singing with slower songs also impressed King.
“I think that takes a lot to do if you have a slow song and to make it engaging and entertaining and still powerful,” she said.
Alumna Dr. Debra Burleson member of Delta Delta Delta and senior lecturer in the MIS department, used a special prop during her favorite Sing act that is banned from use today – sparklers. Any use of pyrotechnic effects has since been prohibited due to safety hazards, according to Cheryl Mathis, Assistant Director of Campus Programs.
Members of Delta Delta Delta dressed in red, white and blue, stood in front of a similarly colored backdrop and lit the sparklers at the end of their 1979 “Singing to Victory with the USO” act. Musical quality placed an important role in this historical tribute, Dr. Debra Burleson said.
The music contrasted between upbeat marching songs and mellow reflective songs about the troops being away, Dr. Debra Burleson said. With strong vocals and good back ups, it fit together with the costumes and backdrop.
“If it’s historical information or witty or even if it is more of a serious tone, you just want it to tell a story and almost get lost in it,” Dr. Debra Burleson said. “When it’s over, you’re thinking, ‘Oh, I don’t want it to end.’”
Delta Delta Delta’s act tied for third place that year and memorabilia from the act was showcased in the Student Union Building during Homecoming 2013.
University Chaplain Dr. Burt Burleson said he has a slight bias toward his favorite Sing act, Chamber of Commerce’s 1980 “After Hours,” since he was one of the choreographers and Sing chairs. Dr. Burt Burleson, who has been watching Sing since high school, joked that Sing was even “his major” while at Baylor.
“After Hours” was about waiters in a 1940’s club who begin singing while wiping off tables at the end of the day. As the last song ended, Chamber’s performers walked off stage and turned off the lights like they were shutting down the club. The different ending as well as the music and vocal talent helped Chamber win first place, Dr. Burt Burleson said.
Musical quality is an important part of Sing to Dr. Burt Burleson and he said he believes groups should look back at past acts to improve current acts.
“We didn’t depart musically from the theme and I view that as one of the major mistakes people make,” Dr. Burt Burleson said. “Whatever their theme is, sailors and ships or whatever, instead of doing music from WWII, they drag in some contemporary music and I think that’s a mistake.”
Sing acts commonly feature popular rock or hip-hop music, but Dr. Burt Burleson said it is a good chord progression that makes you want to dance.
“If the people in the audience are sort of pining themselves, wishing to be up there, that’s when you know you’ve got the right song,” he said.
As this year’s Sing begins, participants can gain inspiration on how to make their act great by learning from the past and staying ahead of the future.
“Every now and then an act comes along that’s different,” Dr. Burt Burleson said. “It opens up pathways for other acts for years to come.”