Last year I attended Spotlight Indy, a benefit to raise money for the Indiana AIDS Fund. I shared a few blogs about the show, and was impressed with the performance… or should I say performances. There are some twenty different performances on one stage, in one night from all over the state of Indiana. It’s pretty magical to see it all come together. The cool thing is, if you don’t like one of the acts… don’t worry, the next act will be on stage in a few minutes. I also attended the event this year, and was equally (if not more) impressed. Working with Lisa Sirkin Vielee I have been able to attend these events… and I asked her this year if I could schedule interviews with each of the acts. That didn’t happen for the 2011 season… but will be happening (fingers crossed) for Spotlight 2012.
Lisa threw a few names my way, and I had the pleasure of sitting down with the Indianapolis Children’s Choir first. I met with Laura Neidig, marketing director for the ICC. I actually knew her before, as she worked at the Pike Performing Arts Center before. I had two art exhibitions at the PPAC. It was great catching up, and we shared a lot of stories over a cup of coffee. It is my pleasure to introduce you to Laura. (Have you heard these kids? They have some incredible talent.)
You are the marketing director for the Indianapolis Children’s Choir. Tell me a little bit more about what all that position entails. What are your daily responsibilities?
First of all, there is no marketing department. It’s just me. It entails advertising, promotions, and communications that come out of the office. On a daily basis, it could be promoting the next event or concert. Planning the next ad campaign. I am also the point of contact if we are performing with another organization. They may need information from us for their program. Basically, I do a little bit of everything.
You are originally from New Jersey. What brought you to the Circle City?
My husband was in the Army and we were stationed at Fort Harrison years ago. We moved around a little, but we ended up coming back here after he retired.
So is it all right if I call the choir the ICC? Is that acceptable?
Yep, perfectly fine. (Laughs)
A few years ago I had a couple of art exhibitions at the Pike Performing Arts Center. I knew you looked familiar! When did you leave the PPAC? (See, it’s a habit!)
I left there a little less than three years ago. There was no job in between; my next job was ICC.
Are you still close with Jared Duymovic, the community outreach coordinator at the Pike Performing Arts Center? (How is he by the way? It’s been a long time since I have seen him!)
Yes, we are very good friends. He is the executive director at the PPAC now. He’s doing a great job with what he’s got there.
You went to school in Scranton. Please tell me you watch The Office… that is where that show takes place.
I do, I love The Office. It’s very clever. I love the writing.
Tell me a little bit more about the ICC affiliation with Spotlight.
They have been partnering with Spotlight for quite a few years now. We have been working with them for at least ten. I think it’s an easy performance for us, because we are right there at Butler University. Logistically, the parents are already dropping the kids off. We always have to take that into consideration. What kind of experience will it be for the parents and the kids? It’s an organization that we feel like supporting. Sort of a no brainer.
So then do you guys practice at Butler?
Most of the choirs do. The college students use the choir rehearsal halls. Then ICC takes them over in the evening. It’s a very good arrangement, and I really don’t think the choir would have been quite as successful without the relationship we have with Butler. It’s been perfect.
Actually, our founder is director of choral activities at Butler. He has two jobs! (Laughs) Nobody knows we are at Butler. We have all this national attention with the Final Four, and there isn’t a single sign anywhere. No one would know we were there.
Tell me about the Summer Camp. There seems to be a pretty big focus on that on the website.
That is our main recruiting tool to get new kids into the choir. It’s pretty much the only half-day summer camp. It’s only been half day; the kids can pick morning or afternoon. It’s a pretty intense four days of learning music, music theory, and learning to sing in the choir. There are four days of practice, a rehearsal and then a performance. That’s usually their first time on stage.
Passing the audition doesn’t mean they get into the choir. It’s actually a really great experience for the kids. The show on the last night for a public concert held at Clowes Memorial Hall. Not every kid that goes to the camp will join, or even decide that they like choral music. It’s still a fabulous experience, even if that’s the only touch they ever have with us.
The ICC has a ton of shows coming up. How do you stay organized with so many shows on the calendar?
(Laughs) ICC, in some ways, runs like a machine. They have been doing certain things for so long. It’s taken me a whole to get into the habit. We rely on the parents; they are fabulous volunteers. We are kind of in a rhythm now. Summer brings touring on, and then fall starts the concert season again. It’s a big cycle.
What are the age restrictions for the ICC?
We have programs from age 2 through 18. We have preschool programs through high school choir, the performing choirs, which most are familiar with, start at 4th grade. The child is placed into a choir based on two things… his or her ability to sing and their age.
The choir will be appearing in the Indianapolis 500 Festival Parade. What’s that experience like?
That’s just one of the many community events that the kids get to take part in. that’s one of the best things about being with an organization like ours that has built such a great foundation. Even if we have a child that thinks, “I am not ever going into singing,” they still have all of these great experiences.
That particular event will be logistically challenging; they all have to wear the same thing. I don’t even know what they are singing for that. Events like that take a lot more planning, but we are used to it.
Some people who have not worked for us before, when they find out how big our choirs are (some are around 100 large) they back off from us. When people learn that, they are hesitant to work with such a large group, but we have such a set way of training, that our parents go through the same training that the kids go through… its usually flawless. People don’t even know we are coming and going. It really does run like a machine.
Do the kids get to go to the race?
We are singing the day before, but a lot of times if we are singing at an event, they will distribute tickets to the kids. A lot of times they include us. If we are donating our time, most organizations will go out of their way to at least give us free tickets to the events.
How do you decide what everyone wears? Where do you get the outfits?
The uniforms haven’t changed much in 25 years, especially for the younger choirs. 25 years ago, children’s choirs were just taking hold. That was just an industry standard, for lack of a better word. Each level has a different look to it. It gives the kids something to aspire to. As far as the upper choirs, we have come to realize that they are more advanced. They change their concert attire every season, to brand the season. Those decisions are made by the choir director.
If it’s a paid gig, then they tell us what to wear. For example, they sang at the Women’s Final Four… they wanted colored shirts and black pants. So if it’s a paid gig, we don’t get to choose!
Out of all of the venues the ICC has preformed in, is it possible for you to pick a favorite?
I think the favorite would be different for the singers and the conductors. ICC has performed around the world at some of the world’s greatest venues. If you ask a conductor, they might have some favorites. One place that they have never performed is the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. They are actually going to take care of that this summer. Name a famous venue, and they have probably performed at it.
To contrast that, they have performed outside, in the rain, for much smaller events. They have really done a little bit of everything.
Do you get to travel with them?
I want to. I haven’t yet, but I want to. There are so many stories to tell. I think the touring aspect of it is so important to our legacy. The documentary we just completed, a lot of the alumni spoke about how much the touring changed so much in their lives. It just opened their eyes. The world is a lot bigger than Indiana. Some of the alumni attribute it to them traveling the world, even studying abroad.
It’s amazing. Think about that… for 25 years they have taken people around the world. Next year they are going to Spain. I would like to go there. (I don’t even have a passport. I am taking care of that this year though.)
Where does the set list come from? Who decides what the kids sing?
The artistic director prepares that. He reviews music pretty much all year long. He has composers send him new compositions and colleagues suggest things. Its not just him… there is an artistic team that pass ideas around to each other. He once said that the first thing he looks at are the lyrics. If it makes the world a better place, and is uplifting to the soul… then he will look at the music. He’s always thinking abut the kid. Whatever decision he makes impacts the kids. That’s his first priority.
Speaking of the kids… they are the most important part of the ICC. Where do the kids come from? Are people out there actively seeking these talented youth or do they just sort of… come to you?
We do a little of both. Because of our reputation, people seek us out. There is a lot of work out there to recruit them. There are new families that don’t know about us… the choir is better known outside of Indiana than it is here in town. We constantly nurture our relationships with elementary teachers. We also have a teacher advisory board to help us recruit.
Part of our website is for teacher resources. In an elementary setting, they don’t have peers. We try to bridge that gap. That relationship is important. Now with the preschool component, we are actually providing preschool music lessons in some of the school districts. Some of our numbers come from there as well.
The ICC has a blog… is on Twitter… is on Facebook. How do you keep all of those social networks straight?
A lot of it is on the fly. Something will just strike me, and if its interesting to me… I think it might be interesting to our Facebook people or the readers of the blog. It’s not just about the ICC. Sometimes it’s about our partners, or the arts… there is never a lack of content for any of the social media, it’s more of a lack of time. Our founder alone could use his own secretary. He has done a lot of research on the changing of the voice. He has done a ton of public speaking. We do the best we can.
So what does it cost for a student to be involved? Do you offer any sort of assistance for students that might not be able to afford to get involved?
The tuition for the performing choirs can range from $300 a year to close to $600 for the year. That’s two semesters. The difference is the number of times they rehearse and the uniforms.
We do offer tuition assistance. We actually have a tuition assistance sponsor, which is the Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital. Henry has said he will never turn a child away. We will make it happen one way or the other.
You guys just finished a documentary. Tell me more about that. What’s this about? What was the process like?
The documentary focuses on how the choir affected our alumni to this day. A lot of our oldest alumni are in their mid to late 30s. We rounded up a bunch of them, and they shared their stories. We asked them about the choir and how it impacted their lives. Oh man… the things that came out of their mouths. We couldn’t have scripted it better. Story after story just kept pouring out… what this meant to them. When you think that we deal with a lot of middle school kids, the choir was always a constant. Many of them didn’t even go on to a music career.
The video was produced by SceneStream.
We talked to a lot of people who are business owners. Some did go into music, but the process was going through 100 alumni. It was interesting going through a lot of archival footage that we used. One of the final cuts of the video… people might not know that it’s the ICC singing. We added that to the credits. It was a fun process. After the end of the day, I had to go find Mr. Leck. I needed to shake his hand. I couldn’t even imagine impacting the kids that he did.
After WFYI saw it, they agreed to program it. Since they didn’t produce it, it wasn’t a given they would air it.
What’s the most embarrassing thing that has ever happened on stage? Seen anything crazy?
I have seen a kid vomit on the risers. Sometimes it just gets hot up on stage… especially if there are lights on. Sometimes they show up in the wrong uniform. There will be 100 kids in the same thing… and 1 poor kid will have the wrong uniform on. I always feel bad for him!
We had a child dropped off at the wrong location. There are always little things like that that go on.
Let’s say I wanted to book the ICC for a show… what is that process like and what do you folks charge?
You would call us and tell us the parameters of what you are thinking. How many choirs do you want? Most want 1. The cost is anywhere from $500 to $1,500 depending on the event. The timing, because sometimes we have to teach the kids the music and that could take a while, because we only see them twice a week. That could take a couple of weeks. The kids always memorize music. You will rarely see them with the music in front of them.
Our conductor is good about suggesting music. Nine times out of ten the client accepts his recommendation. That helps things move along faster. That is actually a personal goal of mine, to promote that aspect of us a little more. We just wait for the phone to ring right now… with the Super Bowl to come to town, I want to get on the radar of the corporations to see what we are all about.
What is your favorite part of being the marketing director of the ICC?
That it’s something different every day. If I go to work with a plan and a to do list, I can never follow it. Things come up all the time. That’s what’s nice working with an artistic organization… just that energy. It just flows through the office. People have ideas and want to take action on them. That part is nice. They just never know what to expect.
So who is the conductor?
There is more than one conductor. Our founder and art director is Henry Leck. Over 25 years ago he started the choir. There are 16 other choirs; they each have their own conductor.
The ICC is 25 years old this year. What is in store for the next 25? (Let’s just say for the next 5… 25 years is a long time!)
One thing I see us doing, since we have already built the foundation of artistic excellence, is becoming more of a support for music educators. Period. The music teachers, choral conductors… in other schools. Especially with music being cut out from other schools we can become an advocate… a support system for parents who want their kids to have a good music education. Whether or not we will keep growing… we probably will.
I don’t want to speak for Henry, he is the one with the vision… but he is always willing to change, as the situation demands it. When he sees something on the horizon, a need… he’s always willing to change. He doesn’t put boundaries on things. He has an open mind and is always willing to do things. Especially when it benefits the kids.
What do you, as the marketing director for the ICC… better yet, as Laura Neidig, want to be remembered for when this is all said and done? What is your legacy?
I think being a good communicator. I find people fascinating. I love finding out their back-story. Just talking with the families in the choir. Some of the different backgrounds. You’ll find a child whose parent might be a big wig at Eli Lilly standing next to a single parent home child. The reason I find this social media interesting is it is a different way to communicate.
In all of the interviews that I have done, I always give the artist the last word. Go.
I want people to realize what a gem this organization is, not just to Indianapolis but really the state of Indiana. We are looked at as a world leader in children’s choral music. If you become a part of the organization, you are afforded so many opportunities to give your child an experience like that.
Whether it’s the choir… or whatever it is. Just bring art into your child’s life. It is so important to get your kids out of the movie theatre and to live theatre. Don’t just assume because you don’t like it your kids won’t either. There are a lot of kids that haven’t been exposed to it and would literally blossom and get a lot of positive experience out of this.
When you stand in the Indiana Statehouse, there are 8 statues that our founding fathers said were important. One of them… the arts.