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Choir members to back Foreigner

SHS runs away with online contest through KRNA
The rock band Foreigner has invited local choir groups on stage at every performance for the last eight years. At a March 29 concert at the U.S. Cellular Center in Cedar Rapids, choir members from Solon High School will join the group on “I Want To Know What Love Is.” (photo courtesy Foreigner)

CEDAR RAPIDS– How cool is that?
For a group Solon High School choir students, it may be the memory of a lifetime– performing “I Want To Know What Love Is” on stage with Foreigner.
Solon’s choir was one of six finalists in a local promotion facilitated by radio stations KRNA and KDAT on behalf of the rock band Foreigner, which brings a local vocal group on stage for every performance.
In online balloting, Solon ran away with the vote.
Out of the 29,799 votes cast, Solon captured 14,088, or 47.28 percent.
“Solon High School ran away with a sweeping majority,” said Mike Ferris, operations manager for KRNA/KDAT.
Solon was the smallest of the districts to participate in the contest, going up against choirs from Cedar Rapids Prairie, Cedar Rapids Jefferson, Marion, Center Point-Urbana and Oskaloosa, which placed second with 5,351.
Schools were asked to submit a video audition to the radio stations, Ferris said, and listeners were invited to vote.
“It’s a promotion that the band has been doing for years with local high schools wherever they travel to perform,” he added.
Foreigner appears at the U.S. Cellular Center in Cedar Rapids Thursday, March 29, one of a limited number of the band’s shows to also feature the Dave Eggar Orchestra.
“They love performing with this orchestra, kind of giving their sound some new depth in the ballads they perform,” Ferris noted.
One of those ballads will be the band’s worldwide hit, “I Want To Know What Love Is,” during which the Solon students will emerge from the wings to provide backup vocals.
He said the radio station is happy for the students of Solon and proud of all the schools that participated.
“They all sounded terrific,” Ferris said. “I was really impressed, and so were the band members at Foreigner when they heard there were nearly 30,000 total votes cast.”
It just shows the power of the community, he added. “A lot of people are excited to see Solon up on stage with this rock band.”
It all happened because former Solon student Anthony Goerdt sent a Facebook link to Solon High School Director of Choral Activities Joel Foreman.
“He said, ‘Hey, you guys should do this,’” Foreman said.
Foreman followed the link and discovered his alma mater won the contest last year in the state of Washington. He read about the details of the experience on the local director’s blog.
“I just thought, oh man, hey, it’s right here, in our back yard,” Foreman said. “We should throw our hats in.”
Solon students were taught the audition piece and it was recorded the next day. Ellie Hawkins shot the video and she and Ely Kleinsmith edited it, and the school and students spread the word on social media, urging a vote for Solon’s version of the hit song.
Founded in 1976, Foreigner’s career spans decades, with a string of megahits in the 1970s and ‘80s.
With 10 multi-platinum albums and 16 Top 30 hits, the band is hailed as one of the most popular rock acts in the world, with a formidable set list that continues to propel tours and album sales, now exceeding 75 million, according to the band’s website.
Foreigner’s debut album produced the hits “Feels Like The First Time” and “Cold As Ice.” The album Double Vision followed, as did a string of hits like “Urgent,” “Juke Box Hero” and “Waiting For A Girl Like You.” Those songs helped give Foreigner’s next album, 4, its impressive run at No. 1 on the Billboard chart.
In 2017, the band’s 40th anniversary, Foreigner’s catalog sales cracked the Top 40 among the Best Selling Music Artists of All Time.
This will be the ninth year the band has included area vocal groups in its concerts, according to John Lappen, the band’s marketing director.
It’s part of Foreigner’s partnership with the Grammy Foundation and its Music in the Schools campaign, which provides financial grants to economically challenged schools throughout North America, he said.
“That’s a program we always admired from afar,” Lappen explained.
Over the last eight years, over 600 mostly high school choirs have taken the stage with the band.
At many of the shows, he said, choir members sell Foreigner’s greatest hits on CD, with the proceeds donated to Music in the Schools.
“It’s well over a million dollars raised so far by all the efforts of the kids and the adults, which is really amazing,” Lappen said.
The $500 grant which Solon’s choir receives comes directly from the band, he added. “Which is cool for their program because most all of them can certainly use the money.”
The biggest kick for the band and its family comes from seeing the kids on stage.
“Unless they grow up to be rock stars, that’ll probably be the only time they get to do something like that in their life,” he said.
It’s really a win-win for everybody, Lappen noted. The Grammy Foundation receives funding and the band enjoys playing with the kids on stage.
“The kids, to me, are the biggest winners because they get a chance to sing one song with a band the caliber of Foreigner,” Lappen said.
Foreigner started its current tour in February and has a full slate of engagements in March, he said. The band is still led by founder Mick Jones, who reformed the band after a 2002 hiatus.
Despite being a jazz man at heart, Solon’s choir director was well aware of Foreigner’s catalog.
“When we announced it to the kids, most of the kids knew who they were, but when you started singing some of their songs, then all the light bulbs went off,” Foreman said. “You just got to sing a little “Hot Blooded” and then you’ve got them hooked.”
The Solon group won’t have an opportunity to rehearse with the band prior to the March 29 performance. The students will practice independently, and already know the material to a comfortable degree, but will be stepping out cold on to the stage.
“It’s game on,” Foreman said. “Baptism by fire, I guess.”
He thanked the community for its support.
Given the schools involved in the competition and the number of votes cast, Foreman didn’t think Solon had much of a chance.
“When we heard that, we thought there’s no way,” he said. He was subsequently blown away when he heard the school had not only won, but done so by a large margin.
“That’s the power of a small town coming together,” he said. “We’re just thankful that everybody supported the arts and put their votes in for us.
Word spreads fast in a small town like Solon, he said, and everyone here rallies around kids and the schools.
“When we come together, it’s a pretty special place to be,” he said. “Everybody voted, and 14,000 votes later we’re singing with Foreigner.”