Swing choir, jazz band reunion brings alumni back to Morris
MORRIS – An elite group of musicians gathered for a reunion in Morris recently – Prisms choir.
Prisms was a select ensemble of Morris Community High School swing choir and jazz band students who were chosen by audition or selected by the band and choir directors. It was a very 1970s thing to do, according to its earliest members.
“It was very popular to have a swing choir and a jazz band back then,” said Jim Boma, who was in the group for four years, “And Stan Cade combined them into Prisms.”
Stan Cade was the first director of Prisms, Greg Anthony the second, then it was Mike Jacoby, then Paul Jung. The group disbanded in 1997. Members said they weren’t quite sure why, but it might have had something to do with the high school musicals beginning and taking up a lot of time.
Boma was one of the organizers of the reunion of Prisms, held Saturday at the Sandlot restaurant in downtown Morris. A trombonist in the band and a tenor in the choir, Boma was invited by Cade to be in the group the year it started in 1971.
“Stan wanted to form an entertaining group,” Boma said.
The students in Prisms performed at meetings and functions all over town and also competed in such contests as the Oak Lawn Jazz Festival during the 1974-1975 school year. Boma said they took Best in Show at that event.
“It was such a positive way to spend my free time,” said Debra Johnson, a member of Prisms. “It was such a big part of my high school experience. We practiced every day at 7 a.m., and I walked from over by the VFW regardless of the weather or winter darkness willingly, with a smile on my face.”
Johnson said she tried out for the group her freshman year and didn’t make it. She wanted to be a part of it so badly, though, that she became its piano accompanist that year, then made the cut for the swing choir the following three years.
“I made tremendous friendships with students who shared similar interests,” she said. “And that was very important at that age.”
“They were a close-knit group, and some of them hadn’t seen each other in 40 years,” said Barb Boma, Jim’s wife, of the reunion. Barb was never in Prisms, but directed it for about six weeks in between directors.
At the reunion, alumni caught up, shared memories and even sang a bit. The unofficial theme song of Prisms was, “You’ve Got a Friend,” and they belted that one out at the event, Barb Boma said.
If there was a mileage award, it would have gone to alumnus Bonnie Sayko, who came from Burbank, California, for the reunion. She works at Warner Brothers studio, Jim Boma said.
Alumnus Jay Lamb came from Lincoln, Nebraska.
“I had a great time,” Lamb said. “I hadn’t seen a lot of the people since high school.”
Lamb said several of the members of Prisms went on to careers in music, many as teachers and professors and some as professional musicians.
“It brought people who really appreciated music together,” he said of Prisms. “It was always a good time seeing people develop their skills.”
It wasn’t always fun getting up before dawn for the early morning practices, Lamb said, but once they all got there, they always had a good time. Lamb brought a piece of one of the group’s uniforms with him to the reunion. It was a vest, and it was a big hit at the affair. His mother had saved it all those years, he said.
“It’s very colorful,” he said. “The front of it is green and yellow with gold buttons. The back is black. We wore them with long-sleeved yellow shirts and bell-bottom pants.”
The swing choir always did choreography with their numbers, Jim Boma recalled, mostly hand movements and a little bit of dancing with partners.
“It was cool, and it was hip,” he said with a laugh. “It was very hip in the ‘70s. We recorded two albums while I was there. It was a big deal for us.”