PAULLINA, Iowa | Kyle Harms and his South O'Brien vocal jazz unit went from worst to first.
Well, in a way it did.
The jazz choir serving the high school based in Paullina, Iowa, finished eighth among eight jazz choirs vying for the state championship in Class 1A one year ago.
Last week, South O'Brien turned the tables on the field, rising to claim its first state championship in this extracurricular activity, besting the field assembled at Valley High School's Staplin Performing Arts Center in West Des Moines.
The title trophy provided a match to the one earned by Sheldon High School, which claimed its fourth consecutive vocal jazz championship in Class 2A. The crown was the first for first-year vocal director Caitlin Hanson, a 2013 Sioux City East High graduate.
Both Harms, a native of Independence, Iowa, and Hanson are graduates of Wartburg College in Waverly, Iowa. They sang together in the choir there; Harms, a tenor, and Hanson, an alto.
"They announced the place-winners from the bottom (eighth place) up," Harms said from his choir room at South O'Brien High School. "They got to second place and we hadn't heard our name announced yet. When they announced second place (Riverside High School), our kids screamed. They couldn't believe it. We had won!"
Central Lyon, based in Northwest Iowa's Rock Rapids, claimed third place among Class 1A jazz choirs.
Harms said his group relied on cohesion in its performance as the South O'Brien singers didn't have an outstanding soloist. "This is a group that really works well together," he said. "There's no jealousy. They're very unselfish."
The 13 students in the group began rehearsing this three-song show in early November, settling upon practice sessions two to three mornings per week. Harms lauded the work of Brian Cole, the school's director of bands, in helping the jazz choir in its musical presentation. The rhythm section, after all, consists of three musicians who take the stage on Thursday at Iowa State University as South O'Brien attempts to place, or win, the Iowa Jazz Championships.
"Many of the concepts our kids learn in jazz they bring here," Harms said. "And many of these kids were also in the All-State (speech) choral reading group, too."
Harms said his parting piece of advice to the group involved having fun on stage. "I told them that knowing they did their best for each other while having fun doing it, it wouldn't matter if we finished first, seventh or whatever," he said.
Hanson said the Sheldon singers began working toward this goal in October. "We had many returning singers who had won in the past and they wanted to reach that goal again," Hanson said.
Devin Wolthuizen and Olivia Lidiak each earned outstanding soloist honors at the festival, one in which Sheldon edged MVAOCOU High School in Mapleton for the Class 2A championship.
"We had a warmup beforehand and I told the kids to live in the moment," said Hanson, a former East High Headliner. "I told them to be musical and to leave it all on the stage. It was their best performance of the season."
Solon High School topped the Class 3A field, while host West Des Moines Valley claimed the Class 4A crown.