Indianapolis Children’s Choir: The Path to Excellence Begins Here

October 2019

If you grew up in the Hoosier State and were involved in a choir as a youth, you were either a member of ICC—sporting an Indianapolis Children’s Choir (ICC) sticker on your parents’ rear window—or you knew someone who was a member.

The Mission of ICC

Since 1986, ICC has served thousands of youth singers between the ages of 18 months and 18 years. Founded by Henry Leck, ICC was founded with the purpose to nurture and inspire student achievement through quality music education and the pursuit of artistic excellence in choral music performance.

Today, ICC continues to serve approximately 5,500 children—2,500 of those singers are enrolled in ICC’s weekly music education programs. ICC’s programs represent the diversity of central Indiana with children from nearly 20 counties, including all of the Indianapolis area suburbs and nearby rural communities. These children come from more than 359 schools and 56 school districts—including Carmel and Zionsville. Each week, the ICC holds 110 rehearsals and music classes.

The Passing of the Leadership Baton

We sat down with ICC’s Artistic Director Joshua (Josh) Pedde, to discuss the vast opportunities for children throughout central Indiana that ICC offers its students. Though housed on the campus of Butler University, ICC offers regional choir programs in many surrounding counties that many parents may not be aware of.

Indianapolis Children’s Choir

Pedde, a native of Fort Wayne, discovered his passion for music at a young age. His journey began when he left a parochial school and entered into the local public school district in Angola. As a fifth-grader, Pedde got his start singing for the school choir and playing the trumpet and other brass instruments in the school band. There he was instructed by Dr. Jon Milleman, who is currently the superintendent of schools at the Lebanon Community School Corporation.

“When we left Angola [for Kokomo], I was really devastated,” Pedde shared. “I was really into the band program [at that time] because of [Milleman]. If he would have said, ‘Josh, walk through fire,’ I would’ve walked through fire. Dr. Milleman expected a lot from us because he understood the journey ahead. It was under his direction that I began to hone my skills and develop discipline.”

Pedde shared that he wrote Milleman a letter when Pedde’s family moved from Angola to Kokomo. In that letter, he expressed his appreciation to Milleman for his direction and [Pedde’s] desire to be “just like him.”

“He [Milleman] wrote me back telling me he didn’t want me to be like him,” Pedde said. “As a freshman in high school, I didn’t understand why he didn’t want me to be like him. Now, I understand that he knew my path was going to be my own. He wanted me to best the best ‘me’ that I could be.”

Pedde attended Northwestern High School in Kokomo where he shifted his interest from band to choir.

“I was a member of the Varsity Singers and was the only freshmen in the group,” Pedde said. “I got involved with the theater and with fall plays and spring musicals. I was never home.”

Pedde credits his parents for their support in addition to encouraging teachers over the years. When it came time for Pedde to apply to colleges, two of his teachers suggested Butler University, and though he was accepted at several other colleges and universities, Pedde chose Butler and that fateful decision placed him on his path to becoming Henry Leck’s successor.

Indianapolis Children’s Choir

As the story goes, Pedde wanted to study conducting, and as a freshman, there weren’t any opportunities for him to do so. Pedde approached Leck in his office one day and expressed his sincere interest in learning from Leck.

Pedde’s persistence and determination paid off. He began private lessons from Leck and shadowed him from that day forward.

“As a freshman in 2001, I started going to [choir] rehearsals every Monday and Wednesday night,” Pedde recalled. “I did that throughout my undergrad and studied private lessons with him. I remember conducting my first ICC concert on the stage of the Hilbert Circle Theatre in 2001. It was my first conducting experience in front of [ICC] parents.”

When Pedde graduated from Butler University, Leck suggested that he stay, earn his master’s degree and continue his studies with Leck.

“I said, ‘Yes, please,’” Pedde said. “I started taking on more choir duties and was teaching early childhood prep classes—first through third grade—and was helping with the university choir at the college and was conducting the Butler Men’s Glee Club.”

Upon completing his master’s degree, Leck once again invited Pedde to stay on at ICC and offered him a part-time job.

“I was also teaching at Stonegate Elementary in Zionsville part time,” Pedde shared. “I had taken over two choirs from Leck during this time, and we entered into an agreement that I would be his successor and the training really began. I went full time with ICC about nine years ago and slowly started to take on more of Henry’s work, so when the transition happened, it was seamless. The parents and the community were and continue to be very supportive.”

Indianapolis Children’s Choir

Meeting the Needs of the Community

As the years have unfurled, the needs of ICC’s families have changed, and Pedde—along with his staff—have worked to meet those needs while continuing to offer the same level of excellence and opportunities to his students. ICC has reworked its practice schedules to better accommodate parents’ working schedules in addition to offering remote opportunities in surrounding counties.

“Almost all of our families are two-income households,” Pedde stated. “Which means both parents are working until 5 p.m. I had to start looking at and meeting the needs of our community, which required us to be flexible and respectful of their time.”

Pedde continued, “We look to work smarter, not harder. We’ve had a really positive response from the parents as a result. We have also moved out into our communities and developed regional sites where we have preparatory and beginning level choir programs in surrounding counties. In Zionsville, we have our Boone County site at the Zionsville Presbyterian Church and Carmel site at Cornerstone Lutheran Church. Families can get the ICC experiences in their communities without having to drive to Butler [University], and they don’t have to audition at these levels.”

ICC’s tuition is among the lowest in the nation for a children’s choir program. ICC benefits from generous individual and corporate donors as well as grants awarded by municipalities and organizations.

“Many people don’t know that ICC exists or know about the expansive and affordable opportunities that we provide,” Pedde explained. “Our most advanced ensemble is just over $500 a year, and when you break that down, it’s more economical than piano or voice lessons.”

ICC Builds Communities

Pedde explained how ICC contributes to its communities in and around its campus and exposes its students to regional, national and international experiences that they may not otherwise participate in.

ICC plays a central role in the cultural life of central Indiana. ICC singers have sung for Indiana gubernatorial and mayoral inaugurations. Performances have included The Governor’s Arts Awards, the Indiana Living Legends Award Gala, the Indiana Leadership Summit, the Tenth Pan Am Games, President George W. Bush’s visit to Indiana, the Congressional Medal of Honor Memorial Dedication, Project 9/11 Indianapolis Memorial Dedication Ceremony, the Indianapolis Prize Gala, opening and closing ceremonies of the International Violin Competition of Indianapolis and more. In 2003, the choir presented Indianapolis’ first professional children’s opera, “The Trio of Minuet,” at Clowes Memorial Hall.

“Being in all of these communities allows us to be a part of them,” Pedde said. “Whether we’re performing at a tree lighting or caroling, visiting and singing for seniors at their communities, singing with the Carmel Symphony Orchestra, and all of those different things allow us to build stronger communities.”

Touring is a consistent part of ICC’s yearly plans. Both national and international tours have provided exceptional experiences for ICC singers and families. ICC has performed on every continent except Antarctica. Current tour plans for 2020 include New Orleans, Mexico, Savannah, Charleston, Williamsburg and Appalachia.

Pedde continued, “These kids have gone to Carnegie Hall, they have sang at the Kennedy Center and at the Vatican. The places that ICC has gone is absolutely incredible. You can be a part of it. You just have to come and get the training. These kids are ordinary kids doing extraordinary things. It’s all about their journey to excellence, and that is something that is taught and honed—not automatically granted.”

ICC’s Affiliate Programs and Special Performances

In addition, ICC offers regional affiliate choirs as part of its Everyone C.O.U.N.T.S. (Community Outreach Uniting and Nurturing Through Song) program. These choirs meet in Boone, Hamilton, Hendricks and Johnson counties. Now in its 21st season, the Columbus Indiana Children’s Choir (CICC) is a cooperative effort of the Columbus Indiana Philharmonic and ICC. The CICC offers musical experiences to students in grades four through eight and serves Columbus and surrounding areas.

ICC performs in a wide variety of professional settings, helping set a standard of excellence in the children’s choral music world. The choir has performed often by blind audition for national professional music associations, including five national conferences of the American Choral Directors Association, National Association for Music Education, Organization of American Kodály Educators and American Orff-Schulwerk Association.

Presenting its own 10-concert series, ICC performs at premier venues including Hilbert Circle Theatre, Christel DeHaan Performing Arts Center and Clowes Memorial Hall. The Angels Sing holiday concert at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church is broadcast each year by WTHR. The ICC Alumni Association hosts former singers each year during the Saturday evening performance of Angels Sing.

ICC has performed at many major sporting events throughout Indianapolis, including Super Bowl XLVI in 2012 and the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 in 2016. At the 2004 FINA World Swimming Championships, the choir performed live national anthems for all gold medal award winners. Additional live nationally televised performances have included the NCAA Women’s Final Four Championship Game, US Grand Prix/Formula One, the Solheim Cup international tournament, the Indy 500 Festival Parade and more.

For more information on ICC programs and regional sites, visit icchoir.org.