picfest travelogue: Midwest, US – Spring 2016

The final week of April, I traveled to the Midwest to meet with conductors and visit rehearsals and performances of several choirs in the Chicagoland and Indianapolis areas. The first stop was a performance by Kantorei – The Singing Boys of Rockford. The choir travelled 80 miles southeast to the town of Niles where they were presented in the Sunday afternoon Musica Lumina Concert Series at St. John Brebeuf Church. In his second year as artistic director, John Rakes led the SATB boys and young men’s choir in a program that spanned a wide-range of genres, periods and voicing. The choir sang with the full SATB ensemble as well as featuring performances by the upper voices and lower voices alone.


I spoke with John afterward about his first two years at the helm, following predecessor Joel Ross, who served as music director of Kantorei for 22 years. John noted that a change in leadership always comes with an opportunity and challenge to bring new ideas and perspective while honoring the history of this fifty-two year old choral institution. Finding new ways to recruit beginners and build continuity is not unique to a time of organizational transition – it’s simply the ongoing work of leading a choir. We wish John and his team all the best as he shapes the storyline on the next chapter of Kantorei.

The next three days took me to four other organizations. In Crystal Lake, I met Ann Tucker and Cynara Pierzina at the Encore Music Academy. After a tour of their new facilities, we had a chance to talk in detail about their upcoming first visit to picfest as part of the June 2016 Youth Choral Festival. What an inventive organization – providing choral, vocal, instrumental and early childhood music training and performance opportunities for their community.


Next were visits with Marianna Kosaya (Campanella Children’s Choir) and Peggy Crawford (Barrington Children’s Choir) for lovely conversations about their choirs and picfest, and the final Chicagoland stop for a rehearsal visit to Young Naperville Singers. YNS artistic director Angie Johnson and I spoke at length about their extensive program serving 350 singers in grades 1-12. I also had the opportunity to observe and speak with several of the eight ensembles in rehearsals. It was a behive of activity as the final rehearsal day before their spring concert. The Young Men’s Chorus of YNS will be attending the 2017 Boys & Young Men’s Choral Festival at picfest. We look forward to returning the hospitality offered to me during all of these visits.

The second part of the Midwest trip took me to Indianapolis to observe rehearsals and attend the 30th Anniversary Concert and celebration of Henry Leck’s leadership of the Indianapolis Children’s Choir as he passed the baton to his successor, Joshua Pedde.


Although I’ve known of Henry’s work for over two decades and had the pleasure of working closely with him in a variety of settings, I had never been on his own turf. What became evident as he took me on a tour of the ICC building and I attended rehearsals is that this organization has set an incredible standard for professionalism at every level. The attention to detail from the micro to macro levels of logistics, pedagogy and artistry is not only astonishing, but absolutely essential for an organization that serves 3000 students in 110 rehearsals and classes each week in central Indiana.


Henry brings the same joyful, rigorous, expressive, uplifting musical leadership to his own choirs that have made him a favorite as guest conductor and clinician around the world. And the organization reflects those same characteristics. During several celebration and retirement events over three days, I heard colleagues, civic leaders and past and present ICC families offer tributes and anecdotes filled with lists of monumental achievements and heartfelt gratitude.

After the extraordinary concert with twelve world premieres – leading up to the multi-movement Dan Forrest commission for chorus and orchestra – and farewells to colleagues from around the country who had gathered for the festivities, I can say that getting an up-close-and-personal view of ICC has given me a greater admiration for Henry’s vision and legacy in the youth choral music world.


We are delighted to welcome Henry back to the picfest podium for the 2017 picfest Treble Choir Festival during our 20th anniversary season.