Monday, October 1, 2012


Tschesnokov's "Salvation is Created" with the Wabash College Alumni Glee Club
 (photos by Dr. John Zimmerman)

I've long sensed the strong bond felt among choral musicians...I see it with my students, members of the Symphonic Choir, in churches. But it was brought home to me again, more clearly than before, during this past weekend's Wabash College Homecoming and the Alumni Glee Club Reunion.

My alma mater is nothing if not steeped in tradition--the "ringing in" of the new freshman class, chapel sing, Pan-hel, and more. Every anniversary is duly celebrated with reverent fanfare at Wabash. So this year's 120th anniversary of the founding of the Wabash College Men's Glee Club was a perfect focus for the college's centennial homecoming.

One result of all this traditionalism is that alums-including me-love to return to campus. Every few years, the music department hosts a reunion of former Glee Club singers, for a chance to sing, catch up with one another, and enjoy some "TWR" ("typical Wabash refreshment").

Current Glee Club Director Dr. Richard Bowen graciously invited me to conduct on this weekend's concert. His invitation, and that opportunity, meant more to me than he might have guessed. For, despite its occasionally rustic energy (or perhaps because of it!), the Wabash Glee Club was an important part of my pivot to music after a sequence of aborted academic majors in my freshman year. Singing on tours to Florida, Pittsburgh and New York City, under the leadership of Dr. Stanley Malinowski, gave me my first tastes of choral leadership and conducting. In fact, my conducting debut was with the Glee Club in a concert at DePauw University for Monon Bell Weekend many years ago. To lead this group now as an established professional would be an opportunity to savor indeed!

It was kind of surreal being on campus, and sharing the stage with current students and Glee Club members. At times we alumni felt as if we were musical ghosts, invited to a musical Walpurgis Night to commune but briefly with the present keepers of the Wabash choral flame.

In performance, the Tschesnokov impressed with the many rumbling low notes, and "Old King Cole" drew an immediate and raucous standing ovation. But of the three works I directed, it was the Fenno Heath arrangement of "My Lord, What a Mornin'" that hit closest to home. How I recall hearing that work performed when I was a student, its shimmering overtones illuminating the austere Wabash Chapel. Standing in the present-day Salter Concert Hall, the warm vocal colors of my alumni colleagues washing past me, I felt the shiver of musical deja-vu; Eric the music student and Eric the professor/conductor/middle-aged man standing side-by-side, each greeting the other with a look of knowing appreciation, embraced among the glad and open hearts of lovers of singing.

How lucky I felt to have the chance to embrace my musical heritage. How lucky are we all who sing together, who make music, and share our lives and our memories.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Here We GOOOO!

So exciting to be starting a GREAT week for the Indianapolis Symphonic Choir! Our first performances of the new season will be unveiled one week from today, on Sunday, Sept 16 at 5 and 8 pm in the sumptuous Landmark Center, 1201 Central Ave, Indy.

Featuring the 29 exceptionally talented performers of our Chamber Singers, Dr. Michael Davis will lead these performances featuring music from the American Songbook, Broadway and Hollywood soundtracks and more. We are honored to be joined by a fabulous jazz combo, including the incredible Steve Zegree on piano.

For more information, checkout the choir's website,

See you at the show!!

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Paddle to the Sea


"Paddle to the Sea" was a film I must have watched half a dozen times in various grade school and Sunday school classrooms when I was growing up. This simple, gentle film tells the story of a small toy canoe, named "Paddle to the Sea" by the young boy who carved it. The boy places the canoe in a snowbank on the side of a small mountain in Canada, where the spring snow-melt carries it to the Great Lakes, the Saint Lawrence River, and ultimately the Atlantic Ocean. The beautifully made movie captures the unfolding drama of the journey with a sense of wonder at what each turn will bring.

Okay, it's a stretch, but I think the reason this movie has sprung back to mind in the last weeks has to do with the start of another season of great choral music. We who sing and conduct are a little bit like that toy canoe-we have an idea of the destination, but we look forward to the surprising discoveries along the way just as much. What fun awaits us at our tribute to vocal jazz and our MOOD INDIGO concert in September? What joys will be experience as we explore again the profound depths of EIN DEUTSCHES REQUIEM by Johannes Brahms?

Sometimes, the paddling is a challenge. The worst economy in a generation has impacted all the arts. Sometimes it's serene...performing favorite choruses from Handel's MESSIAH. In all seasons, however, we keep the paddle in the water, pulling ourselves forward one stroke at a time.

I'm glad to have so many treasured friends and colleagues along for the adventure. After last week's auditions, the Symphonic Choir roster stands at an impressive 175 names! That, along with a dedicated and sharp board of directors, and the most talented staff in the business, ensures our seaward progress. Here's to a wonderful 76th anniversary season for the Indianapolis Symphonic Choir...the journey continues!

Monday, July 9, 2012

A Great Time in DC-Capitol Fourth with the McConnells!

What a magnificent week! Jon and I were delighted to host Mike and Cindy McConnell (pictured above with Maestro Jack Everly) during their 5-day stay with us in Washington DC for the Fourth of July celebrations. The McConnells placed the winning bid on vacation package with us that included sight-seeing, certifiably "foodie" dining at some of the best DC restaurants, and VIP tickets to the Capitol Fourth concert with the National Symphony Orchestra and our very own Maestro Jack Everly.

Sharing in the co-hosting duties was the Symphonic Choir's very own Associate Artistic Director, Dr. Michael Davis, pictured above during one of our most enjoyable morning "roundtables" in our dining room.

Always a highlight any time we are able to get a table, we dined at the fabulous OYA restaurant on Monday evening...sushi, barbecue, scallops, chili tater tots, and molten chocolate cake...YUM!

Despite the temps in the 100's, our intrepid guests had a wonderful visit to the Potomac River home of our first President, George Washington's beautiful Mount Vernon.

On Wednesday evening, it was time to make our way to the West Lawn of the US Capitol, for a star-spangled concert including the National Symphony Orchestra, conductor Jack Everly, host Tom Bergeron, Matthew Broderick and Kelli O'Hara, the cast of GLEE, and composer John Williams.

Did I mention our seats were in the FIFTH ROW??!!

Backstage with Indy Pops Producer Ty Johnson, who arranged our tickets for us. THANK YOU TY AND JACK!!

Olympic speed skating medalist Apolo Anton Ohno led a tribute to the athletes competing in this summer's London Games.

Matthew Broderick and Kelli O'Hara..."S'Wonderful!"

Time for fireworks and John Phillips Sousa!

After the performance, we had VIP tickets to the party in the US Capitol, where we got to visit the Rotunda, Statuary Hall and even the floor of the US House of Representatives.

This was an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity! Thanks to Ty Johnson and Jack Everly who made it possible. And to Mike and Cindy McConnell for their dedicated and generous support of the Indianapolis Symphonic Choir!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Wafna! It's Carmina Burana Time

For anyone who may be in northern Michigan, please consider joining us for our performance Sunday, June 10, 7 pm of Orff's CARMINA BURANA. I have the honor of conducting the Great Lakes Chamber Orchestra, Chorus and Festival Singers in the concert. All the musicians have taken dedication to the highest degree to ensure a memorable and stunning performance!

A week ago, I was just a guy on summer break. Then, my pal and colleague Chris Ludwa reached out to me with the news that, through an unfortunate circumstance, the Great Lakes Chamber Orchestra was in need of a conductor for their upcoming performance. Sadly, their music director Matthew Hazelwood suffered a major heart attack while working in Bogota, Colombia, from which he did not survive.

Under the circumstances, one would hardly be surprised if the concert might be simply cancelled. In fact, I mentioned that to the orchestra leadership, but the response was an emphatic "no." The dedicated musicians all felt strongly that Matt would have wanted the performance to go on. And in so doing, it would become a most moving tribute to the legacy of music making he has left.

Upon my arrival a few days ago, I was struck with a number of things: how friendly everyone is, how dedicated they are to music, and how much this particular performance means to them. Believe me, it's been a great, group with which to work, and the results are going to be amazing in the concert!

The John M. Hall Auditorium is in Bay View, Michigan, just next to Petoskey. It's a beautiful spot, with views of Lake Michigan and numerous other lakes connected via the inland waterway. Rudy has been enjoying the visit as well, and went swimming twice: first, yesterday on chorus master (and former Indy resident) Peter Sims's boat, and today at Zoll Beach in Harbor Springs. He's still trying to decide how much he likes it, but he is a very good swimmer!

It's been fun to share this experience with two of my own singers from the Indianapolis Symphonic Choir. Tenors Larry Stout and Dave Rose (along with wife Kay) made the trip up to add to the chorus. We had a wonderful dinner of prime rib and olive burgers at Side Door Saloon last night.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Berlioz REQUIEM-a look in the mirror

Wow! There's really just no other word for it. The experience of presenting this awesome, majestic, inspiring, thrilling work...this "Grande Messe des Morts" by French composer Hector Berlioz. It's been one of the most amazing experiences of my career as conductor of the Indianapolis Symphonic Choir.

To the singers, to the orchestra, to audience...THANK YOU. YOU brought this ambitious project to fruition. Your energy helped the work to soar to the heavens last Saturday night.

A few days before our performance, members of the Symphonic Choir gathered at the end of rehearsal for a champagne toast, a sippable salute to the 75th anniversary of the Choir. Assistant Artistic Director Michael Davis and I led a couple of toasts. And then we invited the singers to contribute their own one or two word summary of what it means to sing in a choir like this. Their words filled the lobby of Circle Theater as they called them out...the very energy of the ideas whizzing about from left and right, in front and behind. You can read those words in the graphic at the top of this blog entry.

What a week!

Tuesday, May 1, 2012


First off, where would all the chairs come from?

For our first combined Berlioz Requiem choral rehearsal last night, the urgent matter needing our attention was a simple one: how to seat such a huge number of singers?

Scheduled to meet in Butler University's Lilly Hall, we knew we'd have to borrow from somewhere. University maintenance brought us some, and we "raided" an empty adjacent classroom for some others. Whew!

Nearly 200 singers, all gathered in one place, turning their intellect, their vocal strength, their spirituality to one purpose. Cool.

It was an amazing rehearsal last night...we easily made it through the entire (90-minute long) work in our 2.75 hr rehearsal.

Such power...the "Tuba mirum" of the Dies irae, and the "Lacrymosa" are going to be simply stunning in their reverberant glory.

Such sensitivity...Berlioz gives us one of choral music's most sublime and nuanced motets of all time in the fifth movement of the Requiem, the "Quarens me." Set for a cappella chorus, its soaring, fervent lines convey both humility and hope. To lead such talented singers in such beautiful music was, well, let's just say that's going to be one of my favorite parts of the performance on Saturday.

The last time there was a performance of the Berlioz Requiem in Indianapolis was in the late 1970's. The Indianapolis Symphonic Choir brings this to you, our community, for the first time in over 30 years.

This coming Saturday, May 5, 2012. 8 pm at Hilbert Circle Theater (tickets and more info at

Friday, April 27, 2012

One Week to Go!

In-Choir-ing Minds attendees explore the unique features of Hector Berlioz's "Grand Messe des Morts" with my pal (and ISC Keyboard Artist) Kris Sanchack

We are just one week away! Next Saturday, May 5, the Indianapolis Symphonic Choir presents the magnificent Berlioz Requiem at 8 pm at Hilbert Circle Theater in Indianapolis (Words on Music begins at 7:05 with Dr. Michael Sells). It's hard to believe...after years of planning and preparations...we are so close to this thrilling event!

When composed in 1837 (exactly 100 years before the founding of the ISC), Berlioz had grand spaces in mind. The Chapel at Les Invalides in Paris afforded him the opportunity to dream on a massive scale scale. Good thing too, since a listing of the required instrumentation reads like an encyclopedia of orchestra instruments:
4 flutes
2 oboes
2 english horns
4 clarinets
8 bassoons
12 horns
8 pairs of timpani
2 bass drums
4 gongs
10 pairs of cymbals
50 violins
20 violas
20 cellos
18 doublebasses

Plus brass off-stage
16 trumpets
16 trombones
6 tubas

And a chorus of
80 sopranos
60 tenors
70 basses

Consequently, four brass choirs, placed in the four corners surrounding the performers and audience, provided a unique chance to depict musically the "wondrous trumpet" calling to all creation.

The last Indianapolis performance of this work was over 30 years ago. The Symphonic Choir is proud to share this powerful, moving work with our community. See you at the concert!

Checking out the view from the Theater Side Box, "home" to one of the off-stage brass choirs for our May 5 performance of the Berlioz Requiem

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Preparing (for) the Berlioz Requiem

Nearly 250 singers, 80 on-stage orchestra members, another 20 or so brass off-stage, one tenor all comes together in one earth-shattering moment on May 5.

That's the day I'll conduct one of the most dramatic and thrilling works in all the choral-orchestral repertoire, Hector Berlioz's Grand Messe des Morts (Requiem).

Featuring the members of the Indianapolis Symphonic Choir, the Chorale and University Choir from Butler University, the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra and tenor Joe Shadday, this performance will be the first Indy-based presentation of this work in nearly 30 years.

How does one approach a piece like this? Luckily for me, I have had a long relationship with this work ever since singing in a choral performance of it at the Jacobs School of Music waaaay back in 1989. My teacher Jan Harrington conducted, and I was blown away by the depictions of terror, majesty, humility and peace. The first time I heard the mighty off-stage brass bands in the Tuba Mirum, I got goosebumps like I'd never experienced before! I also wrote my doctoral dissertation on another of this composer's works, La Damnation de Faust, and gained a very deep appreciation for the composer's ability to work on a larger-than-life scale.

Since those formative years, I've been lucky enough to hear memorable performances of this work since then: at Cincinnati's May Festival with Robert Shaw, the New York Phil with the Westminster Choir College and Charles Dutoit, and in the newly opened Disney Hall in Los Angeles with the LA Phil. Each time, I've discovered new beauties in this magnificent work.

The choirs have learned all the notes at this point, so now we are working on the details: pronunciation of the text (a HUGE matter, given the massive sounds of the orchestra--our pronunciation of strong and clear consonants is often our only hope in the struggle to be heard), striking the correct choral "color" for each moment/mood/message, and of course preparing and strengthening the musical underpinnings at work within each singer...our ability to remain rhythmically solid and perform as a cohesive unit is crucial in a work of such awesome scope.

This is a work that, more than many, depends upon the space in which it is performed. Berlioz wrote it for the chapel at Les Invalides in Paris, a residence and health care facility for military veterans. An immense space, it gave this most visually oriented composer a huge spatial palate for his musical imagination. Every conductor since has owed it to the work to consider carefully the deployment of forces for a performance of the Requiem.

Our performance will take place in the beautiful Hilbert Circle Theater in downtown Indianapolis on May 5, 2012. This space gives us a number of wonderful options for placement of the large array of percussion, off-stage brass, and tenor soloist.

Join me for a FREE exploration of the work, and a tour of the concert venue, on Wednesday, April 25 at 7:30 pm. We'll meet in the Wood Room of Hilbert Circle Theater on Monument Circle, chat a bit about the work, then take a special behind-the-scenes tour of the theater in anticipation of our performance. (Attendance at this In-Choir-ing Minds event is free; please RSVP to to reserve your space.)

Then, we'll see you at the concert! Saturday, May 5, 2012, 8 pm. Tickets are available at the ISO box office (

Wednesday, April 11, 2012


Mary Jo Moss, longtime member of the Indianapolis Symphonic Choir, receives the Choir's ovation after her final concert of active membership

She never saw it coming! Per my (admittedly misleading) instructions, longtime Indianapolis Symphonic Choir (ISC) member Mary Jo Moss was waiting for me in the lobby at Hilbert Circle Theater. We had just concluded our final performance of the weekend-Brahms's "Gesang der Parzen" and the world premiere of "Missa Mirabilis" by pianist Stephen Hough.

Mary Jo had told me this would be her final concert as a regular member of the ISC. So I had invited her and husband Wayne to join me for a nightcap at a local restaurant before heading home.

But she didn't know that another singer had been dispatched to bring them both to the Choir's rehearsal hall. There, over 100 singers and loyal fans were waiting to surprise her with a reception thrown in her honor.

Every choir has them: a few volunteers so seemingly dedicated that the organization's very well-being may be attributed to their years of hard work, love and nurture. These choir "angels" make it possible to perform, to share some of humanities most indelible musical expressions.

And Mary Jo is an angel of the Indianapolis Symphonic Choir.

For nearly 40 years, she has been a singer in the soprano section, a volunteer and paid staffer in the office, a member of the board of directors, president of the board of directors, generous patron and supporter, the list goes on and on. For me, she has been a special friend, a trusted confidant and fierce cheerleader. I have been most blessed by her special place in my life.

So for Mary Jo, and for all the choir angels out know who you are (if your choir folder is nearby, or if you've been humming a phrase from this week's rehearsal, that's YOU!) have our collective and undying accolades and thanks!!

Friday, February 17, 2012

WHAT THE MUSIC TELLS US-a note is worth a thousand words

In the choral world, music and text go hand in hand. The powerful majesty in Handel's Messiah: "King of King, and Lord of Lords." The stupefying terror of Verdi's Requiem: "Dies irae, dies illa." The countless examples of word painting in the Baroque.

But not always.

Our friend Brahms, already known to us to color outside the lines (a requiem with no Latin text, c'mon??!!), has another approach in mind when writing his very last work for chorus and orchestra, the Gesang der Parzen (Song of the Fates), in 1882.

Musically dense, Brahms gives us a score heavy on the browns, grays and blacks as he sets Goethe's poem from the play Iphigenia in Tauris. It's a song Iphigenia recalls from her childhood that describes the all powerful gods and their callous disregard for the human race.

Mostly, Brahms's writing synchs with the ominous text...the crashing orchestral introduction, the rapidly shifting harmonies, the overlapping rhythms.

Yet the fifth sublime, so soothing. Marked in the score "sehr lebhaft und gebunden" ("very soft and legato") he shifts to major and 3/4 time. It's achingly beautiful, and quite disjointed from the text which says:
The rules turn away
Their blessing-granting eyes
From entire generations,
And refuse to recognize in the grandson
His ancestor's
Quietly speaking features.
Which they once loved.

Huh? This is the Brahms of "Selig sind die Toten," of "Auch ein Klaglied zu sein im Mund der geliebten ist Herrlich"?

What gives?

Thanks to my teacher Jan Harrington, who pointed me to a short blurb by Peter Petersen in the Deutsche Grammophon CD. "The discrepancy between the hounding of whole generations described in the text and the lovely, lulling character of the music is so obvious that the purpose of the setting must be to express rejection of the idea contained in the words."

I love that. Music and text in a tug of war...

It's a reminder that of the power of music's "voice," that can speak volumes over even the most potent words.

Monday, February 6, 2012


Blog author, chorus master, singer and DANCER(!) Eric Stark on stage to wrap up this year's Super Bowl Halftime Show

This definitely goes in the category of "things you never imagine you'll do but that you love every minute!"

Two weeks ago, while changing planes en route to DC, I received a call from Jennifer, casting director for this year's Super Bowl Halftime Show. One of her choral groups was suddenly unavailable, and she asked if I might be able to help find some willing singers to take the vacant spots. Each would have to commit to ALL rehearsals (and there were a lot of 'em), but in exchange they'd share the stage with Madonna, singing for nearly 70,000 fans in attendance and a worldwide viewing audience of over 100 million people.

My singers were thrilled, of course, at the opportunity. But it came with another complication...none of us could tell anyone what we were up to. In fact, we all had to sign a 5-page non-disclosure agreement. As the days went on, it was a challenge for all of us to keep this incredible news under our hats!

A day before our first rehearsal, in one of our phone calls Jennifer told me they didn't yet have anyone to teach the choir of 200 the music they were to sing (Madonna's "Like a Prayer"). Glad to help out, I told her to send me the music for a little homework on my part.

Turns out, however, we were never granted permission to have printed music--copyright concerns, apparently--and when I arrived at the first rehearsal, my first job was to notate the choral parts from a pre-recorded track.

20 minutes later, scribbled notes and my iPhone's piano app in hand, I strode to the center of the basketball gym where a single microphone and 200 singers in bleachers were waiting for me. Then, borrowing the time tested techniques I've learned from watching Gospel greats Rodnie Bryant and Tim Bratton, I sang each of the vocal lines to the singers. With some repetition, they got them pretty handily. And then we were off to learn our dance moves.

While the singers were being "auditioned" for moves, Jennifer came to me with profuse thanks for my help, and a suggestion that I join the group. They were one singer short, and so she was inviting me to be the 200th person in the cast. She sweetened the deal for me, saying I wouldn't have to be at every minute of every rehearsal...that did it, and I was soon being fitted in the wardrobe department for my black and white robe.

Rehearsals continued, via lots of repetition. Gradually, we got better and began to look like something with some sort of coordination. We were looking forward to arriving at the stadium on Wednesday night for our final rehearsals, and to see what the stage would look like.

Once in the stadium, we were all blown away by the elaborate set-up, lighting, costumes...and even more the talent. And, Madonna was there with us every night. She was the hardest working person on the field. Always scrutinizing, practicing, trying it again. At one point she gave a very heartfelt thanks to the hundreds of us who were volunteering our time...nice touch!

Madonna and I had a special "moment," too! On Thursday, she was inspecting all our costumes and had us arrayed on the stage in our spots. She approached my group, and after adjusting the copper laurel sprig on the head of the woman ahead of me, she started up the stairs where I was standing, headed for the main stage above. Wishing to steady herself, she reached out and grabbed my right bicep. Then, (obviously enjoying the sensation!) she put her other hand there as well...and for a brief second, in that vast arena, it was "just" the two of us as she glided by (well, okay, that's a reach for sure...but it WAS pretty neat!!).

Madonna, backed up by members of the Indianapolis Symphonic Choir and the Butler University Chorale

III. The Big Show
One of my singers from the Symphonic Choir told me he figured that, for every second of music we sang, we were in rehearsal for 30 minutes. That's his way of saying we had a LOT of rehearsal time.

But on game day, everything went fast! After checking in at Ben Davis High School and eating our box lunches, we donned our robes and boarded about 25 school busses for the ride into town (it was the choir members, the gladiators, the drumline and the stage hands).

Once in the Lucas Oil Stadium, the site of the full-to-capacity crowd was breathtaking...twinkling lights from all the cameras, and the energy! It was electrifying.

After a brief wait in an underground hallway, it was time to take the field. Madonna was escorted out by the gladiators, and the show was underway.

Waiting our turn in the end zone, we were all giddy with the moment, watching and singing/dancing along and waiting for the finale when we would take the stage.

At last we were moving toward the 50 yard line. The crowd had been given flashlights, and requested to point them to the stage for our song. The sight was truly beautiful! All the little lights undulating to the music.

Good news for me...I remembered my steps, and didn't stumble, or sing along with Madonna's solo verse, or scratch my nose (all errors I had committed in the rehearsals).

Too soon, it was over, and we were racing through the tunnel and out the door. Screams of excitement were everywhere, as were high fives, hugs and congratulations. It was incredible, and all agreed it had been the opportunity of a lifetime.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

"Miracle" Mass

Pianist and composer Stephen Hough

"My car screeched out of control-swerving, spinning...then suddenly it was tumbling in somersaults across three lanes. As it turned over four of five times many thoughts raced through my mind...I would never get to hear the music I had written that week."

So writes composer and pianist Stephen Hough, about the car accident that inspired the title "Missa Mirabilis" (Mass of Wonders, or Miracle Mass). Most fortunately, he survived the wreck, and lived to hear the work's premiere (with organ accompaniment) months later at Westminster Cathedral.

The Symphonic Choir is learning this amazing piece for our performances in April with the Indianapolis Symphony and conductor Nicholas McGeegan. It will be the premiere of the fully orchestrated setting of the work.

If you like the lush harmonies of Fauré, or the inventive mélodie of Poulenc, you'll enjoy this piece. Likewise if you are a fan of jazz. It's beautifully crafted, inventive and fresh, familiar enough to reward the the listener, surprising enough to delight at the same time.

Hough writes a lot in addition to his work as a performer and composer. You can get a glimpse at his website:

Saturday, January 21, 2012

"When Soft Voices Die"

Composer Drew Shearin, 1994-2011

Music, when soft voices die, Vibrates in the memory.
Percy Bysshe Shelley

Yesterday's performance of the Butler Chorale was one I'll probably never forget. Invited to perform at the Indiana Music Educators Association state conference, we traveled north to Fort Wayne with two busses full of singers, members of the Butler Symphony Orchestra, and school of music faculty. I was most proud of our students, who sang and played with polish and fervor.

What made this so memorable for me, however, was the very real reminder of music's ineffable timelessness.

One of IMEA's important functions at this conference was a composer's competition for high school musicians. Numerous works were selected for performances by solo and chamber ensembles, bands, orchestras and, of course, choirs.

Drew Shearin's work, "The Sweetest Air is Most Often the Thickest," was selected as the winning choral work in the fall of 2011. Tragically, this talented and inspiring young man was killed in a car accident shortly thereafter.

The Butler Chorale was honored to perform the world premiere of "The Sweetest Air." Though neither I nor my students had the opportunity to know Drew personally, we did have a connection, through Butler alum Dave Elliott, on the faculty at Drew's high school (Knox, IN), and through Butler alum and staffer Kristin Flodder, who had worked with him at a summer band camp. From these first hand accounts, I learned very quickly what an extraordinary young man and musician Drew had been.

When I learned that some of Drew's family, including his mother, would be in attendance at our performance, I spoke with my singers about what to expect...there would be an emotional energy in the concert venue (the beautiful sanctuary at First Presbyterian Church in Fort Wayne). It would be up to us to communicate Drew's music and words as sensitively and accurately as possible. And we should prepare ourselves to see, and possibly become affected by, the range of emotions the occasion might invoke.

Before beginning to conduct Drew's piece, I spoke briefly to the audience, saying how honored we were to be entrusted with the work of one so obviously talented and special. I also admitted that, though none of us on stage had the chance to know Drew, I was certain that he had family and friends in the audience. And so for them, for all of us, we wished to hold a brief moment of silence in tribute and memory to Drew.

Then, we sang. The room was as quiet as I've ever experienced, except for some subdued sniffling. I was touched to see my students' tender reactions observing the audience response as they performed. Finally, the work drew to its tender, poignant and cathartic close ("I awake to find my fall forgiven.") I kept my arms extended for a prolonged moment after the final cutoff, then very slowly allowed them to drop to my side. The silence persisted, probably for a full 90 seconds. I remained motionless, allowing "the room" to dictate the moment. Finally, the applause began, slowly at first, then quite strongly...and certainly not for us, but in honor of a young man whose presence was felt through his music by all who were there.

Speaking with Drew's family after the performance, I was honored to receive a gift from his mother: a framed poem that had been read at his funeral. It contemplated the beauty of an unfinished musical composition, asking finally, "is it unfinished, or is it endless?"

Though tragically short, Drew's life continues to touch and move us. I am grateful to him for this remains, the heart and the spirit triumph over the messy mortality of our physical selves. Thank you, Drew Shearin.

(Read more about Drew and hear his music at

Monday, January 9, 2012

Heading for a CELEBRATION!

After a much appreciated break for the holidays, the Symphonic Choir kicks it back into high gear with one of our most eagerly anticipated concerts ever, CELEBRATION! This year, we are honored to commemorate the life and triumphs of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., by holding our gospel concert on the MLK Jr. holiday, next Monday, January 16.

You'll hear the ISC perform some favorites, including "How Lovely Is thy Dwelling Place" and "Praise His Holy Name." And, you'll thrill to the sounds of the Celebration Massed Choir under the direction of grammy nominated recording artist (and Indy's own) Rodnie Bryant in some of the best gospel works of all time.

Our performance takes place in one of Indy's most historic venues, the Madame Walker Theater. I look forward to seeing you there!