Teaching Life Lessons While Honoring the Carmel Choir Legacy

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December 2019

For more than half a century, Carmel High School (CHS) Choirs have been singing, dancing and delighting audiences. The Ambassadors was one of the very first show choirs—ever— that paved the way for numerous other schools to develop their own show choirs. In addition to CHS’s other award-winning and remarkable choirs, led by current directors Kathrine Kouns, Kyle Barker and Anna DeBard, these groups comprised of all levels, from beginner to experienced, continue to expand their knowledge and hone performance skills each year.

DeBard, Barker and Kouns

The Carmel Choirs have taken home countless Grand Championships in both show choir and concert choir. The choirs have performed all over the nation and have represented our city, state and nation abroad. While such an impressive legacy may be daunting for not only the current students but for the directors as well, Kouns, Barker and DeBard shared how they use the Carmel Choirs legacy as a positive motivator and use it to inspire—not intimidate— when instructing and mentoring their students.

Teaching Life Lessons

New to the Carmel Choir Program—Anna DeBard

DeBard is the newest member of the Carmel Choir faculty. She leads the Rhapsody and New Addition choir groups. DeBard shared that she grew up in southern Indiana and was heavily influenced by a musical family.

“My mom was a band director for 17 years and was actually my high school band director,” DeBard shared. “She graduated from Indiana University, and I also went to IU. And I also chose to go into musical education. Out of college, I accepted a position at Clinton Central Junior/Senior High School in Michigantown, Indiana. I maybe had 50 students in my choir program, but I loved it and loved getting to know the kids and growing the program.”

DeBard shared that when she saw the opening posted for a choir director at Carmel, she applied on a whim and got the position.

“It’s been a whirlwind, and especially as a second-year teacher, I feel very humbled and blessed to be here,” DeBard expressed. “It’s been an amazing season so far. With all the stress and chaos comes many more awesome students, and they make it all worthwhile. Right now, Holiday Spectacular has been my priority, but we are also gearing up for competition season, and we’re feeling pretty good about it. The students are doing really well and are improving a ton.”

Growing in Size and as People

Barker has seen the choir program grow since his arrival to CHS two years ago.

“When I started here, the program was between 460 and 470,” Barker said. “Now we’re somewhere between 500 and 530 students. Aside from our a capella group, our smallest choir has 45 members. So, we’re still growing. With regards to the program’s legacy, it’s still easy—for me—to get overwhelmed, but the easiest way for me to get beyond that is to keep my focus on what my kids need and to put the attention on them, and then all the other stuff just gets easier.”

Barker continued, “Sometimes, I wish we had a sign on our door that says, ‘AP Life.’ Especially in 2019, when we’re seeing in a huge increase in the way that the anxiety and stress affects the kids and the mental health aspect of things. It’s become part of our jobs to address those things too and help our kids get through it. So, when we talk about legacy, pressure, technique and competition, we would all agree that our biggest job is to prepare these kids for life and make sure that they are going to be OK when they leave the walls of our classrooms.”

Kouns added, “The bar is always high for the kids, and the pressure is on us—as directors—to get the next crop of kids to the same level of excellence or to push that bar even higher. There are a lot of daily reminders, motivational team-building exercises within our groups and a lot of interpersonal skills that go beyond hammering out notes, rhythms and steps. We spend time discussing the show and getting the students to commit to whatever it is we’re trying to say on stage and put out to the audience or out into the world. We discuss the whole idea of letting our voice be heard, both metaphorically and literally, what their legacy will be and what they are going to contribute and accomplish in their snapshot of time here [at CHS].”

Kouns emphasized that in addition to promoting personal growth, interpersonal skills and accountability among their students, they also encourage and nurture their students’ ability to praise other choir programs for their efforts and wins and exude strong sportsmanship behavior at competitions.

“There is a lot of pressure where you feel like you have to outdo yourself every year,” Kouns said. “We talk a lot with the kids about this, and the reality is if you go out there and you are giving your very best on stage—leaving it all out there—and you have sung and danced your best, you have done everything to your maximum ability and had an incredible experience making music together, and if it so happens that another choir won that day, you still won. I tell them that I want them to make it really hard for anyone to beat them, and not because they are so full of themselves but because they have worked hard and made their show great and polished and tough to beat. If someone does beat them, then good for them because they obviously worked hard too. There are a lot of great kids, teachers and programs out there that are inspiring to our kids and to us.”

The Tradition of Holiday Spectacular

As the students are performing this long-standing holiday tradition this week and weekend, Kouns spoke about the honor of carrying on a program that kicks off the holiday season for many people and families—some who don’t even have kids in the school district but have made attending the program an annual tradition.

“It’s a very cool tradition to inherit from people who started it long before us,” Kouns said. “We uphold and honor this tradition that was started by really great people that I admire, like Ron Hellems and Ann Conrad. Even though it has evolved over the years with different people being in charge and different peoples’ visions, at the core, Holiday Spectacular is still meant to be this wonderful gift to the Carmel community that showcases all these talented students at CHS. Every director has put their own touches and contributions into the show, and that’s what makes it so great—it’s a real collaboration.”

Honoring the Carmel Choirs Legacy in 2020

Kouns shared big news for an upcoming event on April 13, 2020, at The Center for the Performing Arts.

“As we’re speaking about the legacy of Carmel Choirs, we actually have a concert coming up this year that has been organized by one of our parents that we’re calling the Carmel Legacy Concert,” Kouns announced. “It will take place on April 13 at the Palladium. We are inviting back all the former directors who have been part of the program over the years: Ron Hellems, Ann Conrad, Lamonte Kuskye, Diana Gillespie, John Burlace and Sam Chenoweth, among others. Also invited are many alumni members who have gone on with performing arts and are making a living as performers. These alumni will be performing solo numbers and small acts. Some of our current choirs will be performing as well—a few numbers along with the alumni—so it is going to be a huge event that will be a really amazing and memorable experience.”

Stay tuned for more information on the Carmel Legacy Concert! Carmel Monthly will be covering this story as more information becomes available.

Looking for last-minute tickets to Holiday Spectacular? Go to carmelchoirs.org and click on the “Ticketracker.com” link for available tickets. View and bid on auction items on the site’s Qtego link!