Greg Sanders has been the artistic director for the Indianapolis Men's Chorus since 2011. This year will mark his 5th Christmas running the show, but he joined as a piano player in 2003.
"I was looking for a way to be involved in the community, artistically," says Sanders. "Meet other like-minded individuals and be involved in a group that had both a vision of music and ... being inspiring for social change."
That change has been at the forefront of the IMC's mind, especially this year. We spoke with Sanders to hear more about the upcoming show and the pivotal events of this year.
NUVO: How has the show changed since you have been at the helm?
Greg Sanders: I would say that we have increased production value. We have more bells and whistles on the show. We have added costume changes. We've added more staging. It's more of a variety show... it definitely feels more contemporary.
NUVO: You are involved in so many things around town: from Butler's music program to the ISO. How is your involvement in the Men's Chorus different from all of those things?
Sanders: It's a group that has a social activism bent to it and makes that a part of the programming.
NUVO: What is it about the Christmas show that makes it such a staple in Indy?
Sanders: I think that it is very family friendly, first of all. I think that it's a time when people like to gather with their friends and family and enjoy music. It is a way to celebrate the season. It is also a time when people really enjoy hearing Christmas carols in all their guises, whether they be popular songs or sacred music. It's a time that we like to sort of hear things that remind us of our childhood and reminds us of family and friends ... whether that be biological family or the family we create on our own as adults. I think that spirit of community is what brings people to events like this across the city. That's what takes us to Yuletide or Nutcracker or Christmas Carol at the IRT. All of those things mark the importance of the season.
NUVO: What is different with this year's show that you are really excited about?
Sanders: We are excited to have more production value ... We have some new pieces in the program that are going to be new to the audience as well. They weren't commissioned by us or anything but they are newer works that were written. We are also going to bring in a theater organ which I think is pretty exciting. That organ is being delivered. We are using it from a place in Chicago. That organ will give the concert a different kind of feel that I am also excited for. ... It's kind of like the old Paramount Pizza Palace.
NUVO: What are some of your favorite memories from the Men's Chorus over the years?
Sanders: Sure. One of the things would be we traveled to the Spoleto Festival which is an art festival in Charleston, South Carolina. And we performed at part of that festival. That was a really wonderful trip and memory that I have. Also, I have a real fondness of my first Christmas concert, which was in the fall of 2011. It was sort of a Renaissance for the IMC that year. We had a bunch of people join again. We had some new people join. So that concert was very special to me. A couple of colleagues and I who are involved in the group, and our pianist, DJ, myself and one of our singers who doesn't live here anymore ... and another of our singers ... the four of us all played an eight-hand version of the Waltz of the Flowers. That was really entertaining. I look back on that and it was really fun ... I also remember a few years ago we did a gay marriage number where we sort of staged gay weddings in the context of the song "Get Me to the Church on Time" from My Fair Lady. We had tuxedos and wedding cake. It was charming. It was right as the gay marriage stuff was really hitting the country. I thought it seemed really timely and effective. It made a really powerful statement from our stage, and was just a lot of fun.
NUVO: The Men's Chorus has in its mission statement that it's dedicated to "promoting diversity, equality and justice through music." After a very long year where those things have been shaken to the core in Indy, how do you want to end this season?
Sanders: I think we want to celebrate all of the things that we have achieved in the last year. It was a rough year in Indiana for us. But we sang in opposition to RFRA ... That was a real watershed moment for our community. I felt it was a time where people in the legislature who feel that gay marriage was the wrong move, I feel like their voices were overbalanced by the outpouring of community support which we had from the arts community — which we typically have it from — but from the business community. Major business leaders in the community made a stance against that, which was awesome ... I was proud of my guys for singing in response to that. (Editor's note: This year marked IMC's 25th anniversary. It was also the year that same-sex marriage became legal. During the anniversary show Sanders read from portions of the SCOTUS argument.)
NUVO: What are the roles of artists when justice like that is threatened?
Sanders: I think all art holds up a mirror to society and asks us to be reflective as citizens of the world. I think that good art does that through beauty ... It asks us to think about ourselves in a careful way ... It channels something deeper in our souls to be better humans.
Dash Away All
When: Dec. 18-19
Where: Marian University Theatre, 3200 Cold Spring Road