Nick McGraw is ready to lead the vocal department and show choir he's competed against, judged and admired his entire life.
"If you would have told 20-year-old Nick McGraw that he would be interviewing for the Mitchell Friend de Coup job and would be offered the job, he wouldn't believe you," McGraw said.
McGraw, who was hired this spring to direct Mitchell High School's show choir Friend de Coup, follows the departure of Jennifer Randall, who directed Friend de Coup and the Kernel Choirs for three years. Randall announced her resignation in February and returned home with her family to Texas to pursue other musical projects after the end of the 2018-19 school year.
Under Randall's direction, the show choir won the South Dakota Show Choir Competition two consecutive years and continued a series of excellence, performing in competitions across the Midwest.
McGraw is excited to call Mitchell home after living in Lincoln, Nebraska, for the last two years while pursuing a master's degree in music and choral conducting at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL). During his time at Lincoln, McGraw directed UNL's show choir, the Big Red Singers, and coordinated its show choir invitational and the Nebraska show choir camp.
With graduation in May, McGraw was already searching for a teaching position when the Mitchell School District released the vacant vocal director position to outside applicants. Many people, including Randall, encouraged him to apply.
McGraw grew up in Sioux City, Iowa, where he was part of the Sioux City East High School show choir, The Headliners. He had competed against, judged and watched Friend de Coup for many years.
"Mitchell is one of those programs that I've known about forever," McGraw said. "It's been a program I've really loved and has so many traditions."
McGraw was one of over 15 applicants for the open position, Dr. Joe Childs told The Daily Republic.
"Our show choir is well known across the country for its high level of performance and skill," he said. "It's definitely a highly sought-after position for many show choir directors across the state and country."
The Mitchell School District was looking for someone who had success on the show choir side with both choreography and vocals and who possessed the ability to communicate and develop relationships with students.
"Because this show choir is a large undertaking, you want people who can navigate our community and those relationships so they can get the help they need and develop the structure they need to continue to be successful," Childs said. "Mr. McGraw did a fantastic job displaying those qualities, and we're excited to get somebody of his caliber into our school system and be part of our show choir."
In addition to his experience performing in a high school show choir, McGraw's directing career started during his junior year of college when he was pursuing a bachelor's degree at Morningside College.
"That was a really cool experience," he said. "I started seeing things from the director side."
After graduating, he worked as a vocal director for one year at the Wahlert Catholic High School in Dubuque, Iowa. From there, McGraw taught at Keokuk High School in Keokuk, Iowa for five years before moving to Lincoln to pursue his advanced degree. He said he is honored to be offered the vocal director position and have the chance to serve the Mitchell School District and the community.
"I'm really excited to be a part of such a tight-knit, supportive community that really gets behind the music program as a whole," he said. "It's something you don't find everywhere and it's really unique."
Like the directors before him, McGraw plans to respect and honor the traditions the show choir adopted decades ago while helping move the group forward.
"I firmly believe in life we are often standing in the shade of trees that have been planted long before us," he said. "I feel really blessed by the foundation, structure and support that already exist in the program."
McGraw and choreographer Stephen Todd are excited for this year's show choir concept and look forward to bringing it to life once the school year begins. In the meantime, McGraw is focused on finishing his duties at UNL before making the move to Mitchell in July.
Along with directing the show choir, McGraw will direct the Kernel Choirs and work with the fall musical. McGraw is excited to join the music and theater department staff, working with band director Ryan Stahle and theater director and language arts teacher Melissa Miller. He wants to foster a love for music and singing to all students who walk through the choir room doors.
"All of the directors that have come before-Jennifer Randall, Chris Miller, (Jeff) Gemar-have worked really hard to help pave the way." McGraw said. "My hope is that I can honor that tradition and legacy that has come before but also keep forward motion-building up on previous success and opportunity."