Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Making on Impact: Reflections on Summer Camp

As I sat in the front row at Clowes Memorial Hall during the recent Choral Festival concert, I focused my camera on an ICC grad receiving her certificate.  I pulled back for a moment from the viewfinder to take a better look at her, as it suddenly struck me that this same singer was new camper a few years prior.  (During my early tenure at the Indianapolis Children's Choir we produced a camp video, and I spent a lot of time going over footage - I knew those faces!)

Time flies.  Kids grow up fast.  We get one chance at nurturing them through childhood. ICC helps in this regard. The Choral Festival singers now have a powerful childhood memory from the afternoon they stepped out on to the biggest stage in the city. Buzzing around that week I noticed how much fun our singer-volunteers were having, as well as several ICC alumni home from college. Buoyed by their own memorable experience, many returned to ICC for Choral Festival week. ICC makes a positive impact on young people.

How am I so sure about this?  A few years ago, I worked on a documentary for the ICC's 25th anniversary. Alumni played a starring role, and I was struck by the common themes of their statements. Across the board they spoke fondly of their years in the choir, about how much they loved their directors. They enjoyed the opportunity to sing with kids from all over central Indiana. Music allowed them express their feelings and thoughts as they were going through adolescence. The word 'fun' came up a lot and the idea that ICC felt like family. On an artistic level, they enjoyed striving for a bar that was set high, and surpassing it.

ICC Founder and Artistic Director Henry Leck sums it up best with his artistic vision: Helping kids achieve excellence.  That's what we do here.  We are the one of the largest and most successful children's choral programs in the world, with activities for kids of all ages. To the parents of the Choral Festival singers:  I appreciate you giving us a first look, and  I hope that you consider a second!

PS:  A recent radio interview on NPR goes into depth about the value of singing in groups. It's worth a listen!

Sunday, March 17, 2013

It's a Wrap: Indianapolis Youth Chorale Raises the Bar at ACDA

"I don't think people realize what went in to that!" said American Idol winner and country superstar Carrie Underwood.

She was referring to a spoof of the most watched YouTube video ever - Gangnam Style.  Underwood and her co-host for the Country Music Awards, Brad Paisley, did their own version, Gingham Style. Choreographers were hired for both her and Paisley, several tracks of the song were recorded, and they had  hours of rehearsal.  All for just about  60 seconds of entertainment - but the audience loved it.

I shared her sentiment as the Indianapolis Youth Chorale prepared for their performances in Dallas, Texas this past week at the American Choral Directors Association national convention.  ICC was sending a choir for an unprecedented fifth appearance, and like the Gangnam Style spoof, there was a lot of preparation the audience would never see.

They wouldn't see the music that was studied, the dogged determination that director Cheryl West put in to the rehearsals, nor the work of accompanists Martin Ellis and Rebecca Edie.  The dedication of language consultant and dance instructor Krsztina Inskeep as well as music educator Mary Evers would remain behind the scenes as well.

The audience wouldn't see the chasing down of details that went in to the ACDA concert program, the travel arrangements for nearly 100 people, nor the assistance and nurturing the chaperons, parents and ICC staff gave these young people along the way. They wouldn't see, but they would ultimately experience, the passion and dedication of Artistic Director Henry Leck who founded this choir decades ago.

Really, all that is just fine.  That's the nature of the performing arts. There doesn't need to be full disclosure of the process.  Like Underwood and Paisley's spoof, all the audience needs to do is sit back and enjoy.

It seems that, after two standing ovations, and compliments from the composers extolling how brilliantly IYC brought their works to life, the audience did more than enjoy:  They savored some of the finest young voices in the world.

photo:  Darla Berry

Underwood/Paisley Gingham Style:

(Even better!) IYC rehearsing "Dance of Exultation" (Dan Forrest):

Thursday, October 25, 2012

A Not-so-Subtle Reminder

Lilly Hall was buzzing with singers being dropped off, running to their choir room, signing in and taking their places.  I had ventured upstairs from the basement enclave where the ICC offices are to meet a volunteer.  I was thinking about my busy day, wondering where the heck I had parked my car eight hours before, distracted by the fact that my own daughter had texted me about the family dog jumping the fence.

As I walked past the room in which Bel Canto was rehearsing, I literally stopped in my tracks.  "O Fortuna" was pouring out of that choir room, sung with such maturity and polish it was beyond belief. I poked my head into the room where Bel Canto director Josh Pedde was working with the singers. Clearly advanced in their musicality, some of the kids just looked so young. It simply didn't seem plausible that the singing I just heard came out of those kids.  

A snapshot would show tall singers, short singers, some in jeans, some in soccer uniforms, some who probably had a bad day and some who may be thinking about the homework they still would have to do when they got home.  A snapshot would not have shown the skill with which these singers were being taught, the passion that came along with the skill, or the musical prowess they gained from the ICC directors in choirs leading up to this one.  

Although I've enjoyed dozens of fabulous concerts and certainly know the caliber with which our singers perform, I was pleasantly surprised to be abruptly reminded that when it comes to teaching kids to sing, the Indianapolis Children's Choir is second to none.  

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

A Day at the World Choir Games

It's extremely difficult to reach dominance in any profession. However, watching Henry Leck, the founder and artistic director of the Indianapolis Children's Choir, work his way through a day at the 2012 World Choir Games, I knew I was watching a man who had done just that. 

We boarded a bus at 6am and would be in Cincinnati only for a day.  Henry was teaching a workshop in the morning, and there was a public concert that night.  The ICC was not there to compete. 

No medal ceremonies, no ranking, no wondering who's the best choir.  Henry's philosophy, that music should not separate people but rather draw them together, has done no harm.  His choirs have performed on five continents, for religious, government, and corporate leaders, and with an array of professional entertainers.  The artistic quality of the ICC has never been compromised and the singers never fail to amaze.

The real work began in Junior Ballroom B, on the 3rd floor of the Duke Energy Convention Center.  This particular group of kids, culled together from two choirs, had never sung together.  To get the optimal sound, the choir needed to be 'voiced'.  This was fascinating to watch.  In a mere 10 minutes Henry went through the whole choir, section by section.  Two adjoining singers would sing the same note.  In an instant Henry would determine if being next to each other still produced the ideal sound.

Then the workshop "Changing Choral Sound" began.  Few attendees were aware that they were about to be treated to one of the best children's choirs in the world.  Henry taught several visualization and movement exercises.  A couple of measures of "Let There Be Peace on Earth" were sung to exhibit each technique.  Two measures, over and over, each with nuances not heard before.  I overheard one of the workshop attendees exclaim, "They sound so beautiful!  I just want them to sing the whole song!"

After the workshop, Henry sat down for a TV interview, convinced a Russian musician to help the singers with a challenging Russian piece, ate lunch, and headed off with the singers to the hotel.  Then it was off to the sound check at the Aronoff Center for the Arts, dinner, a little rehearsing, then waiting for their cue.   

The ICC was the last choir in the line-up for the Music of the World Celebration concert.  It had been a long day, but Henry and the singers were ready.  Their final piece, "One Song at a Time" resonated with the audience.  The song made one believe in possibilities.  If we all work together, stand side by side, could we really change the world - one song at a time - as the lyrics would lead us to imagine?

Yes, it is possible.  All of the choirs that descended upon Cincinnati demonstrated that.

Then, ICC took the stage and without the incentive of winning a prize, the choir sang its heart out.  The singers performed with artistry that brought a tear to one's eye and the audience to its feet.  And that possibility?  Henry had it glowing a little brighter. 

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Attention Film Makers!

Note to those new to the movie making business: Don't skimp on the music.

This thought came to mind today as I settled in to watch Titanic's latest release. What a great film - history is the main character, it has a good love story, perfect casting and phenomenal storytelling.

I hadn't seen it for about eight years and during that time my life has changed and my outlook on things has been adapted by experience. Although seeing it in 3-D (3-D done right, I might add) and on an IMAX screen was visually stunning, eight years later it was the music that struck me the most.
How beautiful it was, how evocative, how integral to each and every scene. I don't know enough about film making to know when in the production process a score comes together. In some movies it's clearly an afterthought. In the case of Titanic - which won many Academy Awards, including Best Dramatic Score - I imagine the music being created in a parallel time line to the script. Hand and hand, the composer and musicians working together with the writers, with the actors, each group of creative minds inspiring one another.
Music is like that in so much of our lives - everywhere, often playing a supportive role, without which the main attraction couldn't quite shine as bright. The Indianapolis Children's Choir is a bit like that. We work in the background, helping to shape young lives hand in hand with their parents, their teachers, their own experiences. We help kids shine brighter.
Keep music in the lives of our children. It may just steal a few scenes.

Monday, February 20, 2012

The Singers That Didn't Take the Field

Now that the applause has died down, let’s change focus just a bit. Sure – for those 45 kids from the Indianapolis Children's Choir who took the field at Lucas Oil Stadium to sing the national anthem with Kelly Clarkson at Super Bowl XLVI – it was an experience of a lifetime. I was extremely proud of how the singers handled the rehearsals, the attention, the performance. However, I was just as proud of the singers who couldn’t be there. They handled the disappointment with a maturity beyond their years.

A little back story: There cannot be any doubt that the two conductors who took the field – ICC founder and artistic director Henry Leck and assistant artistic director Josh Pedde – would have wanted their full choirs out there on the 50-yard line. However, the NFL requested 45 singers – no more, no less. Singers from two of the ICC advanced choirs – Bel Canto and Cantantes Angeli – were selected based in large part on their stature. Super Bowl organizers wanted singers that were up to the task musically, but they also wanted singers who looked as young as possible. (Kelly Clarkson isn’t very tall; even in heels. I imagine the sight of little children gathered around the main attraction was what the organizers were trying to conjure up.)

The anthem singers handled their opportunity of a lifetime with artistic excellence second to none, but ALL of the singers are a shining example of the best of what music education offers a child – confidence, discipline, and grace.

There was a palpable reticence in the air on their regular Monday rehearsal the evening after the big game. In one of the choir rooms, a young singer who did not perform on the world’s largest stage said: “Can we clap for the kids who got to do it?” Bravo to them all.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Accepting a request: Honoring Dan Wheldon

When the call came in, the office stopped. Can we do this? Can we accept a performance request from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to perform at the memorial service for IZOD IndyCar series driver Dan Wheldon?

Our performances are planned months in advance. This is to allow time for our directors to choose appropriate music, for the singers to learn it, and for our parents to get it on their schedules. Unlike adult performing arts groups, our artists don't drive. Don Steffy, executive director of the Indianapolis Children's Choir said, "We don't just throw our guitar in the car and go."

Singers are on fall break, and there was a question about the music. Was there even appropriate repertoire for this somber event so early in our season?

The behind-the-scenes effort to honor this request was a moment I wish more people saw. The entire ICC staff pulled out phone lists and began calling individual families, and parents rearranged their schedules. Above all of this was the puzzle that had to be put together with the music.

This is where the ICC really shines: founder and artistic director Henry Leck and assistant artistic director Josh Pedde began poring over songs. Cheryl West, director of ICC's high school division the Indianapolis Youth Chorale, offered some of her singers to ensure there are enough to complete a full choir. The artistic quality that ICC was built upon could not be comprised, but it was beginning to look like there were enough singers, enough common repertoire, and enough rehearsal time that it wouldn't have to be.

The request was accepted. The public won't see the effort put forth by the entire organization over the past 24 hours - parents, singers, and staff alike. They will, however, see over 80 young singers atop the risers at Conseco Fieldhouse, with a sound beautiful enough to honor a champion.