“We seek to inspire, entertain, and educate through music—a universal language of the human experience.”

We rose and applauded. Jack Everly applauded us and the ISO Players. The Players applauded Jack Everly and us. We kept on applauding. And so it went for as long as we could without seeming to go over the top. It was as emotional as a moment can get in a concert hall. After a long hiatus, we were together LIVE at the opening ISO concert on September 17, which continued on the 18th. Together we had witnessed a return and a new beginning with a program showcasing our heritage from elsewhere.  We already had risen to our feet as Dr. Eric Yancy led us through “The Star-Spangled Banner.”  I reflected on the poem, expressing gratitude for coming through a battle, and later set to heroic music by an English composer. A bit of irony considering the historic setting?

And we continued to gain insights with Charlie Chaplin’s 1936 Smile, originally written as an instrumental for the same-named film. In this case, lyrics added by John Turner and Geoffrey Parsons that intertwine melancholy and optimism led me to Michael Jackson’s rendition, reminding us when the going is tough, "That's the time you must keep on trying/ Smile, what's the use of crying?/ You find that life is still worthwhile if you just smile." 

This optimism came to us now in a gorgeous rendition by ISO violist Yu Jin.


The depth of instrumental voice continued with Conrad Jones lending his nuanced trumpet to Puccini’s “Nessun dorma” from Turondot. And breadth grew from solo licks and section bravado throughout the program, coming to fulsomeness with Concertmaster Kevin Lin interpreting the heart of Fiddler on the Roof.  In between and following we were within a spectrum of films, musicals, and operas.

Yes, the ISO was live at Conner Prairie, and in small groups around the city, but this was indeed, “Welcome Home” inside LIVE.

At my door, awaiting my return from this ISO POPS program was a box of four newly published Indiana University Press books.  I read through half the night, and then all day Saturday and Sunday, each book bearing witness to who we are, how we become a caring community while having divergent views about who it is we want to welcome to live in Indianapolis, who already living here we like, don’t like, want to live next to, even live with. Then Monday came a book published by Reedy Press that I simply had read that evening—its relevance obvious from the title: “Indianapolis: An Illustrated Timeline.”

All this reading followed my preparatory re-reading "Peopling Indiana," published 25 years ago, and "Indianapolis: a city of immigrants," published a decade ago, both by Indiana Historical Society Press. 

[You will find a nuvo.net book review column following the posting of this column. ]

With these diverse happenings, I am fully ‘pumped’ for the full 2021-22 DeHaan Classical Series bringing us music from every ethnicity representing our current population. We will experience an overview with the opening program, “Welcome to the United States of America,” September 30-October 2: Kevin Day’s energetic and newly written “Lightspeed” precedes [Samuel] Barber’s Violin Concerto, which emerged from the shadows of WWII.  IVCI Laureate violinist Augustin Hadelich is featured.  

Pulitzer-winning Jennifer Higdon imbues the feel of a postmodern jig to “Jumble Dance.” The 1930s gave us [Aaron] Copland’s incidental music for the Irwin Shaw play, here to be interpreted by ISO’s Roger Roe (English Horn) and Conrad Jones (Trumpet).  Aaron Copeland’s 1933 “Short Symphony” introduces themes we also embrace in Appalachian Spring.

The program closes with Drums: A Symphonic Poem, by “stellar piano player and jazz composer, James P. Johnson—arguably the most important Black musician in New York in the 1920s,” asserts the email notice. 

Learn more: https://www.indianapolissymphony.org/event/welcome-to-america/

Every aspect of this program represents the potpourri of the USA, of Indiana, and of greater Indianapolis. Splendid program notes by Marianne Williams Tobias add heft to the experience, and if you show up an hour preceding the concert start, you can connect with James Joyce, ISO resident conductor, who will lead us along with conversations of 'who we are' via a journey through music from worldwide throughout the season: Hungary, Oct. 15-16;  England, Nov. 4-6; France, Jan. 14-14; USA, Feb. 4-5; Italy, Feb. 17-19; Germany, Fbb. 25-26; Japan, March 10-12;  Finland, April 1-2; the Middle East, April 21-23; Russia, May 6-7; Austria, May 13-14; Worlds Old & New, May 19-21; Spain, June 10-11. The Classical Series concludes June 17-18 “From the Baton of Jun Markl: Mendelssohn’s Elijah.”

I caught up with Jacob Joyce for an email Q/A:

Rita Kohn: Indiana is home to a bouquet of residents who are newly arrived from around the world, and who are descendants of people who over 200+ years, and have helped shape our Hoosier culture. The ISO 2021-22 season recognizes this diversity with "Greetings From ....." over a dozen locations/nations.  World atlas in hand, I began to follow the routes people have had to take over the centuries to come here, and that led me to think about how new residents not only have to adapt to a new way of life, but we have to figure out how to contribute and become essential members of our communities statewide. 

How does connecting with the music of particular nations, cultures, beliefs, and ethnicities help all of us learn to embrace each other as a diverse [NOT divisive] community and to honor our distinctive approaches to 'the sound of music'?  What openness must I bring to The Hilbert with this daring season with 'new to me' composers? What can I expect to take home as I experience the textures of sound worldwide?

Jacob Joyce, ISO Resident Conductor:  I think you said it exactly right there - it's about bringing an open mind to the concert hall, regardless of whether the program might feel more or less familiar. We always strive to present great music at the ISO, and hopefully, over the years we have earned the trust of our patrons, to the point where they know that every concert will only include pieces that are truly worth their time. As you mentioned, this season includes many names that might be new for most listeners. But I think that this presents an incredible opportunity - like you mentioned, we are presenting a more diverse and varied set of repertoire than ever before, and I think listening to Coleridge-Taylor, Clyne, or Bologne with the same attentiveness and dedication as Beethoven is important.

I'm not sure I can say exactly what each individual might take from this experience, but I do think that listening with an open mind and respecting the voices of composers from different geographical, cultural, and socioeconomic backgrounds could encourage further reflection on the topics of diversity and divisiveness that you mentioned, and might even help to build bridges between people, in a time when so many forms of entertainment seem to tear those bridges down. 

Kohn: You describe this season that brings us back to the Hilbert Circle Theatre as an opportunity to discover and embrace "Unheard Voices." It's been a given that patrons of 'the Classics' like to listen within their 'comfort zone,' and sometimes follow along with a well-worn score in hand. The promo invites a broadening of this viewpoint that asks us to  celebrate "contemporary and historical composers whose works are often underrepresented in orchestras today through a sampling of the immense musical catalog of different countries, regions, and cultures." 

Because, for health safety, we can't gather to chat at intermission or linger in the lobby after the concert, what is the best way for us individually and as a community of ISO patrons to converse and bring into our lives this exciting gift of 'new'?

Jacob Joyce:  I think the first and most important step in embracing a new artistic experience is to bring an open mind to the concert hall and continually challenge internal biases about what great music should sound like. This can be incredibly challenging, especially for people like myself, who listen to a lot of "the standards" of classical music. But I think that if concertgoers can consistently work to maintain that openness of mind, then free-flowing discussion with other similarly open-minded listeners follows naturally. Like you said, this is a particular challenge in Covid - my best suggestion for this problem is to bring friends! I always enjoy concerts more when there is someone to discuss it with after, and I think that sentiment is felt by listeners with every level of experience - it can really help, if you have never been to a concert before, to bring someone else who is also a first-timer.

Kohn: Alongside the POPS and the Classical series we have 'the specials'--the film series and the holiday celebrations. What makes these distinctive programs inherent to the ISO culture? Why is it important to develop intergenerational bonding with the ISO?

Jacob Joyce: I think the variety of concerts that the ISO presents reflects our commitment to being as accessible and relevant of an orchestra as possible. We always strive to have concerts that appeal to everyone, all presented at the same high artistic standard that makes the ISO a world-class orchestra. What I particularly love about the variety in programming is that it offers a point of entry for new listeners - maybe someone loves Star Wars, so they go to see a film and get a great taste of the spectacle that is a live orchestra playing in Hilbert Circle Theater. And then maybe they come back for many more concerts!

Kohn: All of us have had to navigate a new way of life since March 9, 2021. As an entity, the ISO has had to be 'navigated.'  How did that happen successfully toward this point of now? [There have been other tough times weathered by the ISO--is that part of the aesthetic gene pool that kicked in with Covid-19?]

Jacob Joyce: Like every orchestra, the ISO had to adapt quickly and dramatically after the onset of Covid. It was definitely a huge challenge for our musicians to not be able to do what they have trained their whole lives to do, performing for live audiences in great concert halls. But I was proud of the concerted effort that the ISO made to continue to provide content for our patrons during a particularly barren time - we came out with high-level digital content, hosted virtual events, and continued our relationships with educational institutions. 

Kohn: What else do we need to know about this season that Jun Märkl, Artistic Advisor to the ISO, ascribes for us as, "Music not only makes statements about the world but can also provide inspiration to heal wounds and build bridges to overcome divisions in society."  

How is the ISO at this moment in time especially welcoming everyone to The Hilbert? What makes the ISO especially welcoming as a destination, as an affirmation of 'together we can be affirming for each other?

Jacob Joyce: I think Mo. [Maestro] Markl said it well there - all I would add is that I think the steps that the ISO has taken to ensure that we can hold live concerts in a safe and secure environment for our patrons is of great benefit to our audience, and the larger community of Indianapolis. I have spoken to so many people who have been dying to get back to live concerts, and I am so glad that we'll be able to give them that opportunity this fall - to listen together, be inspired together, and interact with one another again.

Following this email exchange came a new program Jacob Joyce designed:

“By Popular Demand: Haydn; You Vote. We Play.” With Jacob Joyce, Resident Conductor, at the podium on October 6, at 7:30 p.m.at The Hilbert Circle Theatre, we’re invited to attend an Interactive Rehearsal & Voting. Ditto on October 8, at 8 p.m. Then, on October 9, at 5:30 p.m. we are tasked to “Create Your Own Haydn Symphony Live Recording.”

Tickets: https://www.indianapolissymphony.org/event/by-popular-demand-haydn/

“It’s truly going to be unlike any concert our patrons have ever attended,” says Joyce. “We want our audience members to actively participate in the concert experience by voting to create the perfect Haydn concert. 

“The works of Haydn lend themselves to this format. The idea is whatever listening level our patrons bring, that’s good enough. It will be a fun, interactive event in which every member of the audience gets to participate in what’s going on on-stage.”  

Tickets: the ISO’s website or by phone at (317) 639-4300; $5 each interactive session and the final performance. 


Printing Partners POPS series continues:

Oct. 22-23: Frank Sinatra and Great Ladies of Song

Nov. 12-13: Cirque Spectacular

Jan. 21-22: Christina Bianco: Who’s Your Diva?

Feb. 11-12: Valentine’s Day with the ISO

March 18-19: Jack’s Broadway Standing Ovations

April 29-30: An Evening with Lea Salonga

June 3-4: Michael Cavanaugh with the ISO

Special Programs:

The Bank of America Film Series brings Disney in Concert: “The Nightmare before Christmas,” Oct. 30-31; “Amadeus Live” on March 4; and Disney in Concert: “Mary Poppins,” July 9 and 10.

The 35th anniversary of ISO’s AES Indiana Yuletide Celebration begins on December 3 and continues through December 23 with guest host Sandi Patti and Jack Everly, and special guest tenor trio T.3. Learn more at the ISO website about specific days, times, or purchasing tickets and ISO health and safety guidelines.

Catch these videos:



Handel’s Messiah will be presented on Dec. 23.

For more information, visit www.IndianapolisSymphonyOrchestra.org.

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