The forceful notes rise higher and higher, as hundreds of voices sing together with the accompanying orchestral music.
During its annual Festival of Carols concert, the Indianapolis Symphonic Choir always blends timeless holiday music such as “Joy to the World” and “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” with deep tracks from the Christmas carol catalog
But this year’s show will feature something completely different — the voices of some of Johnson County’s best young singers.
The Festival of Carols has become one of the area’s most popular cultural events during the holiday season. In the tradition of showcasing central Indiana’s best adult musical talent, this year’s concert also will include skilled high school musicians as well.
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The CG Singers — Center Grove High School’s top choir — will perform on Dec. 3 alongside the symphonic choir as well as doing a pair of songs on its own.
Having an opportunity to sing with an established and respected group such as the symphonic choir is a unique and special opportunity, said Jennifer Dice, choir director at Center Grove. But her students are prepared to rise to the challenge and deliver a performance worthy of the event.
“For them to be involved with a choral ensemble of adults, this is a cool opportunity for them to see that this is something they could do in the future to stay involved in music,” Dice said. “It gives them access to a resource we have here in town.”
The Festival of Carols has become the Indianapolis Symphonic Choir’s most popular concert every year. The choir’s 140 members are joined by the Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra, giving the show a powerhouse blend of vocal and orchestral music.
The program mixes favorites such as “Angels We Have Heard on High” with unique selections, including “Hail to Christmas,” a bombastic song from the film “Babes in Toyland.”
Alice Ripley, who won a best lead actress Tony Award for her role in “Next to Normal,” will be the guest soloist this year.
This will be the 26th year for the concert. The shows have all sold out at different venues during the past four years, and Stark expects that to be the case in 2017 as well.
“We sing all styles of music in a typical season, but we want to make sure we have something that really connects with our broad audiences at least once a year, if not more,” Stark said. “We’ve found that the music for the holidays is the perfect time for people to want to gather together and hear some things that are familiar as well as trying on some things that are different for them.”
Putting the concert together is a year-round effort, Stark said. Organizers start planning the show in late January or early February, and only ramp up preparations as the holidays get closer.
“The concerts feature more than 200 performers total, with the choir, orchestra, dancers and soloists,” Stark said. “It takes careful planning and organizing the entire way. It’s never really far from your mind that there’s a Christmas concert coming up.”
Part of the process includes recruiting high schools to take part in the Festival of Carols. Center Grove is one of two schools to be included this year, joining Avon High School’s choir.
Including high school musicians falls into the symphonic choir’s mission of educating the community about music through community-wide programming.
“I’ve been so impressed by the high degree of excellence by the different choral programs around Indianapolis, and Center Grove is right up there at the top,” Stark said. “We’re all aware of the situation in the schools, really for any area of study but particularly for the arts, can be precarious, and we want to be supportive of the arts in the communities around us as much as we can be.”
The roots of Center Grove’s inclusion stem from a previous concert the choir did with Stark called Butler Sing! In addition to CG Singers, the showcase featured choirs from Carmel, Franklin Central and North Central high schools.
When Stark approached Center Grove about taking part in the Festival of Carols, it was too good of an opportunity to pass up, Dice said.
Preparations for the CG Singers have been ongoing, both during class and after school. The students have four songs to learn, including “The Dream Isaiah Saw” by composer Glenn Rudolph, “Snow” by Irving Berlin and “Brightest and Best” arranged by Shawn Kirchner.
In addition, they’ve coordinated with Stark to make sure the nuances of the songs they’ll be singing with the symphonic choir are clean and crisp, and all of the choirs will rehearse once the day of the concert.
The process has required more time practicing than normal, but her students have put in extra effort to make it sound perfect.
“We do our own Christmas show here that’s pretty big, so this is pushing the kids to learn a couple more pieces than we normally would,” she said. “The kids have a lot on their plate right now, but they take it in stride. They’re very good singers and very good musicians, so they can pick things up pretty quickly.”
Center Grove’s choir directors are constantly looking for ways to expose their students to professionals in all varieties of the musical arts, Dice said. The school works with the Cabaret, an Indianapolis based performance group, to attend clinics with Broadway veterans. They also get to attend Cabaret performances, giving them a sense of how the pros approach musical theater.
All of them are aware of the dedication and skill a performer such as Ripley brings to the stage, and the opportunity to be part of the same concert as her is monumental, Dice said.
“Our students have a lot of unique opportunities in terms of what high schools can provide. They don’t take that lightly,” she said. “The fact that Alice Ripley is in this concert with them, they’re very musical-theater minded, they really appreciate that and are looking forward to it.”
The Festival of Carols
What: A series of holiday concerts by the Indianapolis Symphonic Choir, partnering with the Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra and choirs from Center Grove and Avon high schools. Soloist Alice Ripley, a Tony Award winning actress, will highlight the performances.
When: Dec. 3, 15, 16 and 17
- Dec. 3: 7 p.m., Schrott Center for the Arts, Butler University, 610 W. 46th St., Indianapolis; featuring the CG Singers, the Center Grove High School choir.
- Dec. 15: 8 p.m., The Palladium at the Center for the Performing Arts, 1 Center Green, Carmel
- Dec. 16: 3 and 8 p.m., The Palladium at the Center for the Performing Arts
- Dec. 17: 3 p.m., The Palladium at the Center for the Performing Arts
Tickets: For the Schrott Center, tickets range from $35 to $45 for adults, and $15 for students under 18; at the Palladium, range from $21 to $46 for adults, and $15 for students under 18.