The tradition of the annual Festival of Carols event runs deep in central Indiana.
For decades, soaring voices and impeccable orchestra music has infused new life into beloved holiday carols. Special guest performers, from stars of operatic music to area students, have lent their talents to the Indianapolis Symphonic Choir during its most popular event.
Santa Claus even makes an appearance.
“It’s probably our best attended concert series,” said Donna White-Daniel, a Greenwood resident and member of the symphonic choir. “Watching the audience, the joy on their faces while they’re listening, it fills you up.”
This year, the Festival of Carols will have a Johnson County flavor. Local residents — including the Franklin Community High School choir — have been working for months preparing for the annual holiday spectacular, which runs Dec. 14 to 18.
The program features a selection of fan-favorite and traditional holiday music such as
“Deck the Halls,” “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch,” and Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus.” Renowned baritone Michael Preacely, the Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra and the Rodnie Bryant Singers are scheduled to be guest performers.
To be part of such a unique and popular event has been a great honor, said Johnnie Hughes, director of choirs at Franklin Community High School.
“They’re very excited. A lot of them have never performed with an orchestra, so I’ve been telling them how cool that can be,” he said. “Also, it’s a little more challenging music, but they’ve been up for the challenge.”
The Indianapolis Symphonic Choir, which was formed in 1937, is one of the most active symphonic choruses in the U.S. Through its performances, as well as education and community engagement programs, the choir reaches more than 20,000 people each season.
The centerpiece of its calendar is the annual Festival of Carols, with the choir performing a curated selection of fan favorites and holiday classics. What started as a series of concerts performed at churches throughout Indianapolis has grown into an extravaganza featuring special guest performers, a carefully chosen slate of songs and even a visit from Santa Claus or the Grinch.
For White-Daniel, it’s the most exciting time of the year.
“It’s a wonderful feeling to be able to bring music like we do to the people of central Indiana, and people from outside of Indianapolis who come in for the performances,” she said.
White-Daniel has been a part of the Indianapolis Symphonic Choir for nearly 20 years, and performed with the Northwest Indiana Symphony Chorus before then.
A member of that choir had come from Indianapolis and had been part of the symphonic choir there.
“When I learned I was going to move to Indianapolis, I picked his brain and was able to get an audition, and was accepted into the choir. I was thrilled to death about it, because it’s quite an exceptional choir,” White-Daniel said.
During her time with the symphonic choir, preparing for and performing in the Festival of Carols has been her favorite concert to do.
“The music, some of it is familiar, although the arrangements are usually slightly different than when we do around singing Christmas carols at our neighbors’ homes. But some of it is not familiar, and some of it is brand new,” she said.
This year’s concert spotlights Preacely, a rising star on the operatic stage known for a versatile singing ability and style that crosses from classical repertoire to pop, contemporary, and Broadway. He has received critical acclaim for many of his performances, including Phantom in “Phantom of the Opera,” among others, and has performed with many major and regional opera houses and orchestras in the United States and abroad.
Festival of Carols also serves as the debut for a new composition, “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” The composition by Andrew Huish, director of choral activities at Bob Jones University in Greenville, South Carolina, was the winner of the 13th annual Christmas Carol Commission Competition, an initiative as part of the Indianapolis Symphonic Choir’s ongoing commitment to the future of choral music.
His work hits the stage alongside a pair of “spotlight choirs” — one from New Castle High School, the other from Franklin.
The opportunity for Franklin Community High School to take part in the Festival of Carols started taking shape last school year. In preparation for competition, the choir brought in Eric Stark, a professor of music at Butler University and artistic director for the Festival of Carols, to help them.
Stark was impressed by the choir’s talents, and invited them to be one of two high school spotlight choirs for the event, Hughes said.
Preparation for the Festival of Carols started in the fall, as soon as organizers sent them the music.
“We started very early,” Hughes said. “We wanted to make sure the students were really prepared, since they’d have this opportunity to perform with an orchestra and be in this professional situation.”
IF YOU GO
Festival of Carols
What: An annual tradition of the Indianapolis Symphonic Choir filled with a variety of holiday favorites.
Dec. 14: 7:30 p.m., Clowes Memorial Hall, 4602 Sunset Ave, Indianapolis; this performance will feature the Franklin Community High School choir.
Dec. 16: 8 p.m., The Palladium, 1 Carter Green, Carmel
Dec. 17: 3 p.m., The Palladium
Dec. 18: 3 p.m., The Palladium
Tickets: For more information and to purchase tickets, visit www.indychoir.org.