PORT ORCHARD — For the last eight years, high school choirs across North America have had life-changing opportunities to perform in front of massive audiences, alongside the rock band Foreigner.
On Sept. 9, the South Kitsap High School choir will be the latest in a long list of choirs that have joined the band on stage to perform “I Want To Know What Love Is.” The South Kitsap school’s choir will perform their version at the White River Amphitheatre in Auburn.
“(The students get) a lifetime memory of being rock stars for the night,” John Lappen, Foreigner’s marketing director, said. “It’s an amazing opportunity for them.”
Lappen said he’s coordinated performances with high school choirs for “well over 500 shows,” and that he’s “gotten tons of letters and emails and phone calls telling me how much it meant to them.”
“It’s literally affected — it’s got to be at this point — in the tens of thousands of people,” Lappen said. “The choir, the school, their friends, families, their teachers, the community … it’s really touched a lot of people.”
The reason Foreigner does this, Lappen said, is because they were inspired by the Grammy Foundation’s program called Music in the Schools.
“They fund-raise … monies to donate to grants to schools throughout the nation,” Lappen said. “Colleges, high schools, junior high schools. Schools they choose to donate to are mostly economically challenged that don’t have the funds to provide music- and art-related classes.”
Foreigner decided to partner with the Grammy Foundation to raise funds for that program, selling a “Greatest Hits” CD at the show and donating it to the foundation. The band also donates $500 to the participating choir.
Choirs are almost always chosen through a contest, Lappen said, conducted by local radio stations. They put the word out to area choirs urging them to send in an application, along with a recording of them performing a Foreigner song — and listeners get to vote for the winner. In this case, the contest was hosted by KZOK-FM, and SKHS won.
This concert is part of the band’s 40th-anniversary tour, making it a special opportunity even for Foreigner.
“Only a handful of bands get to that,” Lappen said. “How many one-hit wonders litter the music landscape? Even Mick Jones, the founding member of Foreigner, said (before Foreigner took off) ‘I’ve been in the music business a long time; I’ve never had a hit.’ And he never had that hit. He said, ‘I was kind of giving it my last shot,’ and this was 40 years ago in 1977. He co-wrote the songs in Foreigner’s first album. It came out and it was a smash.
“Even then, he thought, ‘I don’t know how long this is going to last.’ Forty years later, it’s still going on. They still sell out shows around the world.”
And Lappen said they will continue performing with choirs for years to come.
“We’re going to use choirs for as long as Foreigner continues to tour,” Lappen said, “and there’s no indication we’ll stop anytime soon.”
He added that the participating kids “get the thrill of a lifetime.”
“They walk off the stage, and some look like a deer in the headlights,” Lappen said. “Some I’ve seen break down in tears. Some just laugh and giggle incessantly. It’s very cool.”
And that reaction from the kids — one of wonder and thrill — is “why we do this,” Lappen said.
“We never knew it would turn out to be what it’s turned out to be,” he said. “The first night after the first show — I think it was in Cleveland — the promoter called me and said, ‘That choir idea — you’ve got to keep doing that.’
“We’ve kept doing that.”
He said including high school choirs in their performances “makes a lot of people happy.” They raise money for schools across the U.S. and Canada, which affects other students in those school by helping fund music and art classes.
“It’s really cool,” Lappen said. “We love it. The band loves it. It touches them a great deal, as well, certainly Mick Jones … I like to say no one’s ever called me the next day and said, ‘That idea really sucks.’ No one ever will, either.”
Michelle Beahm is the online editor for the Kitsap News Group. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.