Show choir at Mt Zion High School has a long and rich history beginning in 1973, when Mt. Zion entered the world of (what was then called) swing choir. The first swing choir at Mt. Zion consisted of 9 girls. That same year, Roberta Vest, a graduate of Millikin University, joined the staff at Mt. Zion, and became the director of this group. According to Mrs. Vest, she described her first year as a learning experience. Teaching music wasn’t difficult for her but learning about choreographing a swing choir – putting the steps to music – posed a challenge. She enlisted the help of Darlene Wittenauer of Decatur and former member of the Radio City Music Hall Rockettes, to assist her with choreographing the group.
At the end of Mrs. Vest’s second year, some boys asked to try out for the group. Eighteen boys showed up for auditions, after some encouragement from fellow classmate Doug Karl, and the addition of males to an all-female group brought a new dimension to the Mt. Zion swing choir.
In 1977, Dwight Jordan, Mt. Zion’s band director at the time, approached Mrs. Vest about adding a combo. Soon afterward, the swing choir had a combo consisting of trumpets, a bass guitar and percussion. With the addition of boys and a combo, giving the group a name became a priority. The name became the Mt. Zion Swingsations in the fall of 1978.
Dwight Jordan began choreographing for the group in 1978, and ultimately moved on to the national arena, while retaining his role as choreographer for the Swingsations.
Throughout the next several years, the Mt. Zion Swingsations became well known competitors in the show choir arena in the Midwest, and then moved on to the national level when they were named Grand Champions in California in 1985 at the Young Americans Competition. They also won this competition again when they returned to California in 1988. During the 1991-1992 school year, Mrs. Vest took a sabbatical and Connie Mulligan became the director. Following this school year, Mrs. Vest returned, and Mrs. Mulligan stayed in the Mt. Zion School District, working with younger grade levels. However, both Mrs. Vest and Mrs. Mulligan worked together to create an all-female show choir called Les Femmes that first hit the stage during the 1992 – 1993 school year and was an exciting addition to an already successful program!
In 1994, Mrs. Vest retired after building an incredible program and legacy with Dwight Jordan, and Mrs. Mulligan became the show choir director and was joined by Cyndi Johnson, who became the assistant director. The two of them worked together for the next six years with both the Swingsations and Les Femmes and continued the tradition of success begun by Mrs. Vest.
Under Mrs. Mulligan’s direction, the Swingsations continued to be top competitors both in the Midwest and nationally, and received numerous grand champion awards, caption awards and national titles. After the 1999-2000 school year, both Mrs. Mulligan and Mrs. Johnson left the Mt. Zion School District. In the fall of 2000, Jeff Gemar accepted the position of Director, leaving his former program in Mitchell, SD. That same year, Heather Pistorius (alumni) returned to Mt. Zion as the Assistant Director and continued through the end of the 2001-2002 school year. Carla Moebius joined the program for the 2002-2003 season as Assistant Director, and also played trumpet in the combo. Laura Marcotte joined the district as the Assistant Director in the 2004-2005 season, and stayed through the 2005-2006 season, when David Helmbecame the assistant director. After the 2006-2007 school year, Mr. Gemar left the Mt. Zion School District after an extremely successful seven years with the Swingsations and Les Femmes. Grand champion awards, caption awards and national titles were also achieved by Mr. Gemar with the Swingsations and Les Femmes.
In the fall of 2007, Michael Winslow joined the show choir program and became the director for the Swingsations and Les Femmes. He moved from the East Coast to the Midwest to be a part of the outstanding program that had (at this point) 30 years of success! At the completion of the 2007-2008 school year, Brianna Bjerke became the new assistant director of the show choir program and stayed until 2010, when Matt Higgins joined the program and continued through 2012. After the 2013 school year and after several successful years with the program, Mr. Winslow decided to return to the East Coast, and Mike Swengel became the new director in the fall of 2013, and brought on Brenna See as the assistant director, who worked with Mr. Swengel and the show choir program through the end of that same school year. At the end of the 2015 school year, Mr. Swengel left the program and Ms. Mulligan was hired to return to Mt. Zion.
Ms. Mulligan brought on Heather Pistorius as her assistant director and since then, the program has truly evolved. Two additional groups were added to the program, including Premiere, Mt. Zion’s mixed prep group, as well as You’ve Got Male, Mt. Zion’s all male show choir. All four groups flourished and received numerous caption awards and grand champion awards throughout the Midwest and across the country, often times competing with schools that were almost three times the size of Mt. Zion!
As the 2021-2022 school year begins, and the 45th year of the Swingsations, this year includes three competitive groups, the Swingsations, Les Femmes, and You’ve Got Male, and an additional assistant director, Cyndi Johnson.
In what has now become a relatively long history in the show choir field of competition, the Swingsations have enjoyed a tremendous amount of success and notoriety as a trendsetter in the show choir circles, as have Les Femmes, Premiere and You’ve Got Male. Each year, Mt. Zion show choirs raise the standard for high energy choreography, challenging vocals, dynamic visual effects while bringing miles of smiles and tons of fun to the stage. Backed by the strong support of both the Swingsations Boosters and Les Femmes Boosters, as well as the Mt. Zion community, the show choir program will continue to thrive, and the groups will continue to compete from coast to coast and perform for the community for years to come.