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.


  1. Incredible, Eric. Thanks for the writeup. You keep the bar pretty high in the family! Well done!

  2. Awesome Eric! I was watching on TV, and wondering "do I know anyone there?" Such an amazing experience! Thank you for sharing!

  3. We, too, were wondering if we knew anyone on stage and aren't surprised at how this all happened. You and your choirs are the ones who could pull it off. Congratulations! The rest of us guys will simply have to dream of such an intimate moment with Madonna.

  4. What a wonderful recap of that magical experience. You, Eric, the ISC and the Butler singers make me SO proud!!

  5. Many thanks for sharing Dr. Stark!! My students could not believe that I "knew people in the half time show"...what an incredible experience for all.

  6. I KNEW I had to know someone in there! Congratulations on a job very well done! Glad Madonna was nice to you. I babysat for her when Lola was a wee one and she was the most down-to-earth celeb I dealt with (and I dealt with MANY!). BTW, I'm back in Indy and looking for a musical outlet. Maybe I'll audition for ISC? :)

  7. She had asked the gospel choir that my daughter sings with but due to conflicting beliefs, they declined the offer. I wondered who would be the choir backing her up.

  8. Great post Eric - thanks for sharing!

  9. Thanks for sharing your experience and for helping represent Indiana talent!

  10. Congratulations. What an opportunity for you. Thank you for sharing the experience. Lynn

  11. Incredible. I thought I recognized some of those singers;-) congatulations!