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.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Thoughts from the Super Bowl volunteer kick-off

Indy is getting ready for the Super Bowl. Sports fan or not, this is huge for our city. I recently attended the volunteer kick-off, which amounted to a 2-hour cheerleading session to get over 8,000 volunteers excited about the work before them.

Hats off to the Super Bowl Host Committee - they did get us excited! At a preview of one of the world's biggest sporting events, one thing was clear: Music was a huge part of the excitement!

I walked in to Conseco Fieldhouse to hear live music coming from a band set up right on the basketball court. A former Miss America sang the national anthem, and the crowd sang along. In a video montage of the sporting events Indy has hosted over the past 25 years, I was thrilled to see that the Indianapolis Children's Choir was at many of them. The evening wrapped up with Indiana's own Sandi Patty singing "Indianapolis".

It's interesting to me how some people align themselves with one side of the fence or the other, proclaiming "I'm a sports guy" or "I'm an arts advocate." They're really so intertwined at times. The ICC has welcomed visitors, sung the Star Spangled Banner, and performed national anthems live for foreign athletes at world competitions.

Sports and music: we're lucky to be in a city that does both so well.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Project 9/11 Indianapolis Memorial Dedication CD

I spent a little time last week feeling a bit like a record producer. I was listening to few takes of our national anthem, sung by Cantantes Angeli, that had recently been recorded for the Project 9/11 Indianapolis CD.

We were on time crunch, as the organizers of this project needed our recording by close-of-business that day. ICC founder and artistic director Henry Leck was hearing nuances in each take, and he was listening carefully to ensure we delivered the best version. His name would be on this CD, so I certainly understood, even though I kept checking the time on my watch.

Our involvement in this project - the dedication of the beams from the World Trade Center on the 10th annivesary of 9/11 - came about easy enough. I picked up the phone and offered our services. Not a moments hesitation, and Greg Hess, the Indianapolis firefighter who spearheaded the memorial, said "Could you sing the national anthem?"

He never asked for a demo, nor references, nor any questions about our experience with these types of public events. Think about that - just on our name alone did he enthusiastically take me up on my offer to perform at a civic event that will include many of our state's top dignitaries.

Our reputation is solid. The ICC is known for many things, but artistic excellence is at the top of the list. Due to the high standards practiced at every rehearsal by all of our conductors, our name alone is assurance of a great performance.

I'm never involved when it comes to artistic development - but Friday afternoon in Henry's office I got a glimpse at the process. It's a process that ensures when people read "The Indianapolis Children's Choir" on that CD jacket, they'll already know its going to be great.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Musical Relevancy

Irrelevancy is a path one can easily go down as we journey through a career, but Henry Leck seems to be doing the opposite.

Henry is as dedicated today to the art of choral music as he was over 25 years ago when he founded the Indianapolis Children's Choir. His accomplishments of the past season alone leave a person exhausted. Several high-profile performances. orchestrating the ICC's concert season, leading choral festivals not only in Indy but around the world and conducting two world premiere pieces illustrate that Henry continues to be a huge influence in the choral music world.

With cuts in music programs across the state and regular decreases in government and corporate funding to support great music programs, what the Indianapolis Children's Choir does every day fills an important void. Under Henry's guidance, the ICC has been able to not only grow in numbers, but in its influence as well.

This weekend is a kick-off of the new ICC season, as the two advanced choirs are on the annual summer retreat. New singers to the choirs become acquainted, singers are fitted for uniforms, and the camaraderie that is vital to reaching artistic excellence begins to take shape.

These young singers one day will realize how lucky they were to have been able to spend time with Henry at the podium. As we usher in the 26th season, the ICC is more relevant than ever.

Friday, July 1, 2011

ICC hits the Big Apple

I felt like the guest of honor at a party called the Big Apple when I recently traveled to New York City to attend A Melancholy Beauty. This world premiere, conducted by ICC founder and artistic director Henry Leck, recently had its third and final performance at Avery Fisher Hall in Lincoln Center.

I had been to the city before, but never with the luxury of time to really soak it in. It reminded me how important traveling is to the experience singers have with the Indianapolis Children's Choir.

Touring can be quite enlightening. On my three day visit, I found New Yorkers to be so helpful and engaging that I wondered where their abrasive demeanor comes from. I learned the black, unmarked taxi cabs were a little sketchy. I saw so many New Yorkers with dogs & cats in pet strollers I had to mentally applaud the person who was making money from that idea.

I cannot imagine what it was like nearly 10 years ago on September 11, but I felt an immense amount of pride that this great American city had the tenacity to prevail.

The singers who were on tour experienced all this and more. They stood in one of the greatest venues in America and sang in a piece that was such a big collaboration it prompted the house manager to say, "I've never seen this many people on stage!" They shared a common history with ICC alumni they ran into along their travels: Laura Crockett and Ben Markham in Boston to name a few.

The world is a big place. We are fortunate that years ago, Henry Leck wanted to show it to his singers. As a parent myself, I've often felt the angst of wondering where that sweet spot was between holding a hand too tight and letting go. In a way unlike any organization, the Indianapolis Children's Choir makes that transition a little smoother.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Effort Undefined

"The artist is nothing without the gift, but the gift is nothing without the work".

French writer Emile Zola is credited with these words . Coming off of the 25th anniversary concert of the Indianapolis Children's Choir last night, these words ring true. The sheer number of hours worked by hundreds of people - before the concert even began - is staggering.

ICC founder and artistic director Henry Leck had the vision - and those around him believed in it enough to help supply the effort. Effort is somewhat a mystery. We all know it is needed to do a job well; but how much more to really be outstanding?

Art in particular is somewhat difficult to gauge the success of. A business owner can check her bank account. A student has their GPA. A runner can clock his time. Art is a bit more intangible. The same lack of boundaries that draw some people to arts various forms - that fills their creative soul just by taking part in it - is also what makes it hard to measure. When does art go from merely good to touching the heart of an audience?

Should the conductor run the rehearsal just 5 more minutes? Should the violinist challenge herself with a more difficult piece? Should the dancer prepare a little longer? Should the film maker revise the script just one more time? Should the plein air painter paint again because the sun moved more to the west? It's hard to know.

However, when the right amount of effort is indeed put forth, it's crystal clear.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Give a Little

Imagine this: You're walking in downtown Indy. You find that the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra no longer fills the Hilbert with music, the stage has gone dark at Theatre on the Square, art is no longer hanging at all the art galleries around town, and screenings have been canceled for the Heartland Film Festival.

You wouldn't want to live in a city like that, and neither would I.

That's why community support is so important. These past few weeks, grant submission deadlines aligned themselves perfectly to ensure that development personnel in many arts organizations were going nuts. The Indianapolis Children's Choir relies on contributed income to support its expenses, and grants are a piece of that pie.

Watching how tirelessly my colleagues worked these past few weeks was inspiring. "Burning the midnight oil" was a reality, not a cliche. Dotting all the i's in the narratives, making sure the budget data added up, creating artistic documentation that would speak to the grant panelists with a message that says, "Look at all we are doing! Look at how we are making the world a better place! Look how we are touching lives!"

It's no small task. Along with the ever-present efforts to raise money, people in the arts multi-task like no other. Because on top of everything else going on, so must the show.

So the next time you feel moved by a dance performance, wander into an art gallery for a quiet moment in your hectic day, or find your toes tapping to some fabulous live music, give a little.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

LIVES IN TUNE: "You've changed the way I'll look at music forever"

The conductors were in the audience for a change.

We premiered Lives in Tune: The Legacy of the Indianapolis Children's Choir. What started out about a year and a half ago as a note I had jotted during the first 25th anniversary committee meeting had a screening tonight in the Basile Theater at the Indiana History Center.

I have a tendency to editorialize my own meeting notes. Next to "Documentary" I had written "not likely".

Glad I proved myself wrong. This was a job worth doing, but had we done it well? You get tunnel vision at times with a long project. I liked it, but would others?

Many in the audience were ICC alumni and family - they were somewhat pre-disposed to seeing the positive in the movie. Even my friends were a bit biased simply because they knew me.

However, there was a gentleman who showed up and had no bias at all. He simply had read about it in the paper today. It was his comments that meant the most. He said, "I simply never knew singing could do that. You've changed the way I'll look at music forever."

Forever? Now that's a compliment. Especially given the fact that neither myself nor the filmmaker had any musical background to speak of. It's certainly a reminder of how powerful this medium of film can be, and it unique ability to tell a story.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Lesson from Chicago

We had nothing in common except.... Wait: We had nothing in common. I rode a bus today sitting next to a 28-year old black male, moving to Indy for a while to help his wheelchair-bound cousin who had been shot. He asked me, "What are the women in Indy like?" Although I'm rarely at a loss for words, I just didn't even have a clue about that one!

He made me think about the other people on the bus. The older couple, the college girls, the mother and child. None of us would really have any reason to come together, but our common experience of a drive to Indy created an artificial community - if only for a few hours. Our status and careers outside of the bus were irrelevant.

I was in Chicago for the American Choral Directors Association conference. The Indianapolis Children's Choir had a presence at the conference in that our founder and artistic director Henry Leck conducted the National Children's Honor Choir.

After a busy weekend I enjoyed the opportunity to do nothing on the bus but think. I thought about how the singers created their own community for a few days too, and details outside of their common experience were inconsequential.

That's what participating in a choir does best: It allows walls to be broken down by the very nature of studying the music, soaking in the text, and creating a beautiful sound together. These singers in Chicago may never see each other again - but they will remember the work they accomplished, and the lesson that we are more alike than different.

If I had an experience like that with my seat mate, perhaps I would have found that common ground as well.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Focus is Children; the Result is Excellence

I happened to be driving by the Children's Museum of Indianapolis yesterday. Having spent a fair amount of time at the museum when my own kids were younger, I have to say I had never seen quite so many cars parked there. The lot in front was crammed. The parking garage had the "Full" sign out. As I continued driving north on Illinois Street, several smaller lots I hadn't even noticed before were packed to the gills with cars.

An annual gift to the community is free admission on Martin Luther King Day. The museum has been doing this for years, and I quickly made the connection.

Hats off to the Children's Museum. Think about it: the museum opened its doors for free, on what is a day off for the rest of us. The museum most likely had to add extra staff, extra volunteers, extra food and a healthy dose of extra patience.

It takes very special people to dedicate their lives to children. The Children's Museum first opened its doors way back in 1925, and those people had a vision. It's the same vision I have come to learn that the founder of the Indianapolis Children's Choir has. Henry Leck has made an art out of looking past the frustrating nuances of working with children. He gives them his passion, new experiences and a place to grow, along with expectations higher than they would have given themselves. They are better people for it.

From one youth organization to another, to the Children's Museum I say, "Job well done!"