From Rivals to Best Friends

Henry Leck, ICC Founder and Conductor Laureate

Back in 2004, the Indianapolis Children’s Choir had a trip to Prague. Our trip to Prague was followed by visiting Moscow and St. Petersburg.

In advance of the tour, I had gone to St. Petersburg with Old Margunagur and met with three different children’s choirs. We thought, wouldn’t it be marvelous if we could sing together? We agreed on common repertoire and planned a concert that was going to be in the Great Tchaikovsky Hall in St. Petersburg.

After a very successful event in Prague, we went up to Moscow and recorded with the Moscow Chamber Orchestra and ventured on to the beautiful city of St. Petersburg. We were to meet in a large hall where one of the choirs usually rehearsed. When our choir walked up the stairs, we reached a large room with very high ceilings.

The room quickly filled up with three Russian children’s choirs and ICC. This was the summer of 2004 when there was some animosity between Russia and the United States. When ICC singers walked in, the discomfort in the room was poignant. It seemed as if the Russian children were thinking, what are those American children doing here, and why are they part of this event? There were restless stares and body languages. I said to the conductors, “Before we rehearse together, why don’t we sing for each other?”

After each of the Russian choirs sang, ICC got up and performed three pieces in Russian from memory. It was such an astonishing experience for me to watch the whole room start to melt. I could just see it in the face of the children in the room. Well, here are these American kids who think they’re so hot, and yet, they’ve taken the time to learn our language, and they’re singing Russian from memory. That was the first step toward a friendship that grew and grew over the next two days.

Here were kids from two different continents who could not communicate with one language, but they connected using motion, sounds, and facial expressions. They sat next to each other, sang for one another, and ultimately performed in a concert together. They had become the closest of friends by the end of our brief Russia tour. On the last day, at a riverboat party prepared for the children, they sang and danced together. You would think they had been best buddies for years and years.

The lesson that I learned from this experience is that we sometimes think foreigners are entirely foreign. We often build a prejudice toward strangers, but here was a micro example of what could be achieved in this world.

The impact of the ICC has taught me what can be achieved in this world if we choose to understand and relate to one another, gradually melting the big barriers that once kept us from welcoming everyone to each other’s worlds.

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