CARMEL – When I stepped into the room, I could have sworn I heard professional musicians collaborating on an acappella piece, hammering out details, reminding each other of their deadline and distinguishing the point where they’d all stop singing within an 1/8th-of-a-second’s beat. It was difficult to wrap my brain around the fact that I was listening to teenagers in their morning high school choir rehearsal.
“Select Sound” is one of 10 choirs comprising about 400 students at Carmel. The acappella group gave me chills as our photographer captured a performance. Simply listening to them rehearse was a pleasure.
Carmel is well known for its large and successful performing arts department – among other departments at the high school that benefit from a community that, frankly, has comparatively more money to work with than other districts.
“We here in Carmel… many of our families are blessed and have a lot of resources,” Carmel High School Choir Director Kathrine Kouns said. “And as wonderful as that is, we just want to always make sure that the students know: To whom much is given, much is expected.”
Director of choirs Kouns says that was one of the main reasons she and her fellow directors decided to give more meaning to their annual Holiday Spectacular the past few years. They saw the chance to expand on generosity.
“We always tell [the students], it is a gift to the community, your performance on stage is a gift. And we always tell them the expectation is that they will be a generous performer,” Kouns said. “They will be generous with their voice. They will be generous with their smiles, generous with their enthusiasm, generous with their support of one another, generous with their appreciation.”
Roughly 450 students come together each season to create the show, which has 5 performances and is based on Radio City’s iconic Christmas Spectacular: Complete with a smashing number with Carmel's Rockettes. That number of students includes orchestra, singers, dancers and production/tech. The students have been preparing for it since September. And traditionally, the 2-part show sells out tickets.
“A couple of years before COVID, we just decided that if we had all these people here, it would be such a great opportunity for us to support some of the organizations within our community,” Kouns said.
The first year, the program partnered with Hamilton County Coats for Kids. There were so many donations, Kouns says Coats for Kids didn’t need any more for that season and the group had nowhere to put the coats. That was the power of the ticket-holders' goodwill.
“So then the next year, we thought, well, if we've got this many people coming, we could help a lot more organizations,” Kouns said.
Each performance of the season benefits a different charity, asking attendees to either bring donations to the performance or make monetary donations. Kouns says ticket sales will also benefit the charities.
- Wednesday night’s show benefits the Arthritis Foundation.
- Thursday night’s show benefits Caroline Symmes Children’s Cancer Endowment.
- Saturday afternoon’s show benefits Indiana Diaper Bank.
- Saturday night’s show benefits Outreach Indiana.
- Sunday’s show benefits Changing Footprints.
Kouns says even if you can’t get tickets to a performance, the entire effort is meant to shine a spotlight on both the students and the charitable organizations.
She was passionate about how much teamwork it takes to put on this endeavor, not only from the kids, but from faculty and staff as well.
“I'm kind of the lead director of choirs, but I don't do this without the incredible help. It is a very equal sharing partnership between me, Kyle Barker and Anna Dillard, the other two choir directors here,” Kouns said. “We also could never make it happen without Andrew Oakerson. He is our technical director. And then we also have our orchestra teachers that help with some of the orchestra component. We've got some volunteer parents that are incredible. And then of course, an outstanding supportive administration.”
Holiday Spectacular runs at the Carmel High School auditorium Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday.
Kouns says she and her fellow directors begin planning the next year's Holiday Spectacular pretty early, about a week after the current year's performance.
That's not the only thing they're planning ahead of time.
Kouns says she's already made plans with the Palladium to host a 2027 concert celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Accents, one of Carmel's oldest show and concert choirs.
"We actually have girls in the group this year whose mothers were in the group. And it's pretty exciting to see that legacy and that carryover," Kouns said.
Kouns says she hopes to gather as many Accents from the past 5 decades as she can for the show in spring of 2027. The plan is for the whole group to sing a song that is being specifically written for the Accents' anniversary.
"We'll be collecting photos and video and stories and just all sorts of things," Kous said. "It's just going to be a really fun celebration of what that ensemble has meant to the school for half a century."