Songs of the season: Choirs join together to spread holiday message

The contingent of tiny voices rose together and gathered strength, as the Franklin Children’s Choir launched into the Christmas classic “Angels We Have Heard on High.”

The members of the choir had been working since the beginning of November on a holiday slate of songs. The melody was beautiful and festive in the small rehearsal space.

That won’t be an issue, when the choir and its counterpart, the Johnson County Children’s Choir, join kids from all over central Indiana for one of the largest Christmas concerts of the year.

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“The power of children singing is really incredible,” said Joshua Pedde, artistic director of the Indianapolis Children’s Choir. “During the holiday season, there is this hope in the air, that there is peace, that we all love one another. That’s rejuvenated this time of year, and that’s something really powerful for us to sing about.”

Both ensembles will be part of the Indianapolis Children’s Choir “Celebrate the Season” concert, taking place at 12:30 p.m. Saturday at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in Indianapolis. The concert is an opportunity for talented singers from throughout the region to showcase their skills together, working as one to capture the spirit of the season.

At the same time, the kids get to be a part of something larger than just their individual groups, said Melissa Garcia, director of both the Franklin and Johnson County choirs.

“It is a wonderful opportunity for the students. We work for weeks on this music, and then we get to see the finish product with all of our levels,” she said. “It’s amazing to see the kids realize they are apart of something bigger than just ‘Johnson County’ or ‘Franklin;’ they are the Indianapolis Children’s Choir.”

Every year, the Indianapolis Children’s Choir plans a large-scale concert with its various affiliated groups from around the state.

The choir was founded in 1986 to give kids greater access to vocal music, while promoting personal and social growth in addition to creativity. Now in its 30th year, the organization serves more than 2,500 children.

While the program has been successful in reaching a larger number of kids who otherwise wouldn’t have the opportunity to sing, officials worried that they weren’t reaching as many people as they could. The choir is housed at Butler University, and committing to weekly rehearsals was not practical for many residents in surrounding counties.

To help supplement the central group, organizers set up the regional choir program to provide greater access for singers in Grades 4 to 9 hoping to get involved with the choral arts, Garcia said.

Organizers have set up six regional branches, from Carmel to Boone County to Hendricks County. The Columbus Indiana Children’s Choir is also affiliated with the program.

Children can receive instruction and rehearsal in their own communities, then gather throughout the year for larger performances with regional choirs from all over central Indiana.

That mixing of perspective among kids from different areas helps to foster connections throughout the Indianapolis area, Pedde said.

“The unique opportunity this gives is we are not only crossing counties and school districts, but crossing to different parts of the city to help create friendships that might last a long time,” he said. “It’s that community that’s being built that will make central Indiana a better place to live.”

The Franklin and Johnson County choirs combined have about 25 members. They practice once each week, with the Johnson County group meeting at Center Grove Church on Mondays and the Franklin choir coming to Franklin College every Tuesday.

In addition to the weekly rehearsals, the groups have performances throughout the year both at local events and with the larger Indianapolis Children’s Choir organization.

“I am very proud of both of these groups. They work hard. I can’t say enough about the families in Johnson County and their dedication to (the Indianapolis Children’s Choir),” Garcia said. “It is no wonder the atmosphere at rehearsal is dedication and patience. The kids have a sense of wanting to be their best.”

They took part in the annual Franklin Holiday Lighting and performed at the annual Hoosier Hills Festival in Columbus. The groups have taken the stage at some of the region’s largest venues, including Clowes Memorial Hall, Hilbert Circle Theatre and Christel DeHaan Performing Arts Center.

But the annual holiday concerts are the crescendo of the year. The theme this year is “Believe,” playing off of the popular song from the film, “The Polar Express.”

“There’s a line in the movie that says, ‘When it seems the magic has slipped away, we find it all again on Christmas Day. Believe in what your heart is saying.’ That’s what we want to do — to really focus on things that we all believe at this time of year.”

In addition to all six regional choirs, a handful of other smaller groups, such as Cantantes Angeli and Bel Canto, who exhibit high vocal and sight-singing abilities.

“Celebrate the Season” will be one of four concerts being performed this weekend. “Angels Sing” is the centerpiece event, scheduled for both Friday and Saturday night. A smaller performance, “Sounds of the Season,” will be 3 p.m. Saturday.

“All of the things that help make this season what this is, all of the traditions we believe in — gathering around the Christmas tree, baking cookies with the family, being with our friends, there is so much that wraps into that,” Pedde said. “These concerts will contain songs that everyone is familiar with and hopefully bring back to those memories.”

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<strong>Celebrate the Season</strong>

What: A holiday concert put on by the Indianapolis Children’s Choirs younger ensembles and regional choirs, showcasing talents from all over the region.

When: 12:30 p.m. Saturday

Where: St. Luke’s United Methodist Church, 100 W. 86th St., Indianapolis

Participating choirs: Franklin Children’s Choir, Johnson County Children’s Choir, Boone County Children’s Choir, Carmel Children’s Choir, Fishers Children’s Choir, Hendricks County Children’s Choir, Cantantes Angeli, Bel Canto, Octavo, all Preparatory Choirs and the Neighborhood Choir Academy.

Cost: $13; children 5 and under, free

<strong>Other Indianapolis Children’s Choir concerts at St. Luke’s this weekend</strong>
<li>"Angels Sing": 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, St. Luke’s United Methodist Church, $13, kids 5 and under free.</li>
<li>"Celebrate the Season": 3 p.m. Saturday, St. Luke’s United Methodist Church, $13, kids 5 and under free.</li>