The Indianapolis Symphonic Choir, marking their 80th anniversary season in 2016/2017, celebrates the holidays with “Festival of Carols,” at the Palladium in Carmel, Friday, December 16 at 8 p.m., Saturday, December 17 at 3 p.m., and 8 p.m., and Sunday, December 18 at 3 p.m.
The concerts, which have had a sold out run for the past three years, will feature the 200-voice Indianapolis Symphonic Choir joined by the Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra. Although the Symphonic Choir is best known for performing classical music, “Festival of Carols” features a program consisting of popular and traditional holiday music preformed by chorus and orchestra. The Brownsburg High School choir will also join the lineup as part of the Indianapolis Symphonic Choir’s Spotlight Choir series.
“There’s no place like home for the holidays, and this annual musical tradition has become something of a community homecoming for audiences of all ages,” says Artistic Director Eric Stark. “I’m particularly excited about world premieres we will give of fresh arrangements of holiday favorites including ‘O Holy Night,’ ‘Silent Night’ and ‘Mary Did You Know’ with two time Grammy Award-winning soprano Sylvia McNair.”
Recently I spoke with McNair, considered one of the finest interpreters of the American Songbook, by phone from her Bloomington, Indiana home, where she teaches at the Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University.
In general, do you enjoy performing Christmas concerts?
Tom, if I am not singing in the month of December, you do not want to be around me (laughs) because it is not nice. I love doing Christmas concerts. Singing in December is one of my favorite things. Of course I love to sing any time of year but singing in December has a whole special quality to it.
What are some of your favorite Christmas songs?
I think my number one Christmas favorite is a song called “My Grownup Christmas List” by David Foster. I am singing it in every single concert I am doing in December. I am doing ten of them in three different states. Basically, I say to all the music directors, ‘I will do whatever you want me to but we have to do “My Grownup Christmas List.”I love singing the lyrics which are so incredibly moving. “No more lives torn apart/That wars would never start/And time would heal all hearts/And everyone would have a friend/And right would always win/And love would never end,no/This is my grown up Christmas list.”
What is it like working with ISC conductor Eric Stark?
I adore Eric Stark. He is so talented and is such a wonderful colleague. Erick Stark has platinum ears. He demands perfection from his chorus and they are capable of giving it to him. His music making is on such a high level. Eric is also a flexible human being, flexible artistically, and flexible personally. He is just very easy to work with and knows that musicians will be able to do their best work if they are supported and if they are comfortable.
What is it like singing at the Palladium?
The two things that are the most notable are what you see and what you hear. That goes for people in the audience as well as people making the music. It is such a beautiful sight to see, when you are on the stage and looking out at that gorgeous auditorium. Also, the acoustics are natural and the sound system they installed has a five star quality. The sound is glorious and the sight is glorious. They were smart in trusting the shoe box shape which has been proven, over and over and over again to be the perfect acoustics for music. The Musikverein in Vienna. Boston Symphony Hall. There are just so many examples. It’s that shoe box shape—it’s deep, tall, has right angles and a lot of hard surfaces. It’s a winning combination.
How is your teaching career proceeding at I.U.?
I am retiring from it at the end of this semester.
Oh really? Why?
Because, I am tired and because I can (laughs).
Congratulations. What is next?
Well, you know I had a big birthday this year (she turned 60). In six months I am able to say I have locked up 35 years of professional singing and ten years of teaching. I am going to keep singing. I don’t know exactly know what this next decade will hold but I definitely know it is going to be about service. Already I am joining organizations and some are here in Bloomington and some are not. They are organizations where I can use my life’s energy to help people who are less fortunate. One of the biggest things is getting involved with Exodus and the Bloomington Refugee Support Network.
Will you remain in Bloomington?
I am. At least for awhile. I have a lot of big dreams, Tom. I wish I had the energy to match my dreams. I have big dreams of spending two years working in the Peace Corps. Of course, I want to get more involved with Christel House and particularly Christel House in Capetown, South Africa. Recently, I joined the local chapter of the NAACP. I have ideas and things will come into place. But, I hope I enjoy continued great health so I can live out the next decade in service.
What has teaching meant to you?
Most of my teaching has been done in the classroom. I have not had that many private students over my tenure. Most of my teaching responsibilities have been fulfilled in classrooms and the reason that is important is because if you had told me 11 years ago that I would fall in love with classroom teaching I would have told you you were nuts. But now I see how I can put my life to good use in this next decade of service by teaching English as a learned language, or what they used to call English as a second language. I hope to teach in communities, such as Bloomington, that are welcoming refugee families or with Christel House children,or whatever. I have the Jacobs School of music to thank f because without my ten years I would never have discovered how much I love teaching in the classroom.
“Festival of Carols” Tickets range from $20-$40 and may be purchased at indychoir.org or by calling the Indianapolis Symphonic Choir at (317) 940-9057 or the Palladium box office at (317) 843-3800. Student tickets are available for a special price of only $15.