The Counterpoints History
The 2007-2008 school year marks the fiftieth year of existence of the North Central High School Counterpoints. Established in the Fall semester of 1958 by Don Martin, the Counterpoints were formed two years after the high school, itself, was founded. Mr. Martin had begun his teaching career exactly 10 years prior, in 1948-1949, when he accepted the position of band and choir director at a small high school in Grant County. In his only year there, Martin guided both groups to a first-place rating in the state music contest. The students at that small high school had never achieved such ratings before, and they carried their director into the school on their shoulders the following Monday. Whether either the band or the choir has risen to such heights since is unknown. What is known, however, is that one of Martin's students, a kid who played the drums in the high school band, did do alright in another of the performing arts. He was determined to make a name for himself as an actor, so upon his graduation, Don drove him to Chicago to board a train for LA and Hollywood. The high school was in Fairmont and the young man's name was Jim Dean.
James Dean may have been the first, but he certainly wasn't the last of Don Martin's students to make a name for him or herself in the entertainment field. While all of Mr. Martin's protégés are thought to have at least finished high school, few who sang in his choirs ever realized that their director almost didn't. Shortly after entering his senior year at Westfield High, Martin auditioned for a job at the Seville, an upscale restaurant on Meridian, just south of Monument Circle. The job called for an hour and one half of piano music during the midday lunch period and a similar performance for the evening dinner crowd. At the crowded audition, no one ever asked Don his age. To his surprise and delight, he landed the job. After a bit of negotiation with the Westfield principal, it was determined that by taking several classes in the morning at Westfield, hopping the train then running from Sheridan to the downtown Indy in time for his luncheon gig, and then heading up to Shortridge for a history class, Don would still be able to graduate. He kept that job for the next four years to help pay his tuition at Butler's Jordan Conservatory of Music.
Following his graduation and initial year of teaching at Fairmont, Don taught for two years at New Castle High School and seven at Shortridge, where his a cappella and madrigal choirs earned reputations as being among the elite high school choirs in the state. The new North Central, drawing from the Shortridge and Broad Ripple catchment areas, had 57 singers in its choirs the first year. This number dropped to 50 during the second year, but with the arrival of Mr. Martin it jumped to 125. Before he left in 1975 to take a position as the director of music at a prominent church in the city, the choral music program had grown to well over 300 students. During his 17 years as the Counterpoint director, the choir enjoyed an unrivaled reputation for the quality of its vocal production and for its ability to entertain diverse audiences. As early as 1964, the choir was invited to perform at the NEA convention in Seattle. A chronicle of their off-stage exploits while at the convention is probably not something their director, their families, or high school administrators (past or present) need to know about, but the choir's performance was well-received and the reputation of North Central was further enhanced. Another accolade for the choir occurred in 1970 when Mr. Martin, never a big advocate of choral competitions, agreed to enter the Counterpoints in the State Fair contest to determine the state champion high school choir. The Counterpoints practiced a Mancini medley twice a week a month or so prior to the Fair and ended up winning the state crown in the only year they entered the event. Winning a plaque or trophy was not what was important then or now. Members of the choir still remember some of the things their director stressed. Typical of the values Mr. Martin emphasized was something he told the choir during their summer rehearsals. He said that there were two things they needed to remember: First, 85 percent of their audience would be listening with their eyes; and, second, the other 15 percent of their audience were the ones they needed to impress.
The freedom the Counterpoints had to leave school for community performances in those early years is something the members of the choir remember with fondness - and it is something that faculty at that time no doubt thought of ruefully. There is no question that the fact the choir was bringing a lot of favorable publicity to North Central played a significant role in the administrative latitude given. Performances at the governor's mansion, at prominent service clubs, and on radio and television were almost routine. Amazingly, Martin typically did not accompany his choir during school day excursions. They would drive themselves to the performance and sing a cappella - astounding their audiences with their apparent ability to start each piece on key without an instrumental prompt. (A number of CP members in those early years had perfect pitch.)
The days in which student groups - accompanied or not - may routinely leave school have long since passed. Academic and legal liability issues preclude such performance freedom today. Much has changed in the 50 years since Don Martin founded the Counterpoints. We live in a time when business and governmental leaders call for educational accountability in response to the secular decline in the academic perfor- mance of our nation's youth. While such concern is certainly justified, what is often overlooked are the life lessons that are not measured on standardized tests. Instilling young people with the poise and confidence to perform in public, teaching them the value of hard work and collaborative effort, and convincing them that they capable of far more than they routinely expect of themselves are not things measured on ISTEP tests or iterations thereof. But those are the very things which Don Martin taught the students in his classes and the singers in his choirs. Instilling good values is the hallmark of great teachers. What many legislators, business leaders, and members of the public fail to appreciate is the importance of the performing arts in establishing such values and in instilling such lessons. Of course, these things do not occur simply by being a member of a performing arts group. There is a significant difference between being a good director and being a good teacher. Don Martin was and is both.
The Counterpoints have been fortunate to have people who were both good directors and good teachers in the years subsequent to Mr. Martin's departure. The 12 years between Don Martin's tenure and that of the current director, Pat Wiehe, saw the choir led by Bob Critzer (1975-1977; 1981-1986) and Bea Thomas (1977-1981; 1987). Mr. Critzer, who stepped in when Don Martin accepted a new position in October, 1975, joined the choral faculty in 1968. He came to Indianapolis to earn a Master's degree in Music from Butler after completing a BA in Music from UCLA in 1964. He took a position at North Central following his graduate studies when the celebrated director of the Music Men, Dick Laughlin, left to join the staff at Indiana State University. Bob was a gifted musician and scholar. Like all members of the early choral faculty, he had excellent keyboard skills. In addition, he was an exceptional teacher of music appreciation/history and music theory. His lectures on each of these subjects were of college caliber. He was also a perfectionist in his expectations re musical performance. After two years of directing the Counterpoints, Critzer accepted a position outside of education, and was replaced by Bea Thomas. After four years away, he returned to North Central. Mrs. Thomas, who was nearing retirement, turned the Counterpoints back over to Mr. Critzer. Bob served as the choir's director from 1981 until his untimely death in late December, 1986, at the age of 44. Bea Thomas returned from retirement to provide leadership until the end of the 1986-1987 school year.
Mrs. Thomas, like Mr. Critzer, had also joined the choral faculty in 1968. Her path to North Central was considerably different, however. Marrying immediately following graduation from high school, she gave birth to the first of her three children at age 19. She did continue her education on a part-time basis while raising her children and helping to support her family in times of financial hardship. She would bake cakes and pies for a store in Hagerstown while studying for her bachelor's degree in music at Ball State. She earned her undergraduate degree in 1959, the same year that her eldest child graduated from high school in Cambridge City. Bea accepted a position as the K-12 music teacher for the school system in her home town and immediately demonstrated the qualities that were to distinguish her career at North Central. A sense of what she meant to her students in best captured by an account submitted by someone she taught, starting in her second year in Cambridge City:
In the 1987-1988 school year, Pat Wiehe assumed responsibility for guiding
the Counter- points. Like Bea Thomas, Mrs. Wiehe had earned her baccalaureate
and master's degrees at Ball State. She began teaching at Northview Junior
High in 1967, a year before Bob Critzer and Bea Thomas joined the high
school faculty. Pat left Northview in 1973 to help raise her three children
(two future Counterpoints and a Descant). She returned to teaching part-time
at North Central in 1981, when her youngest child entered school. By the
time she assumed her position as director of the Counterpoints, choral
competitions were prevalent in both the concert choir and show choir areas.
The Indiana State School Music Association had begun sponsoring a state
competition for concert choirs in 1985. In the fourth year of the ISSMA
concert choir competition and in her first year as the director of the
Counterpoints, the choir took fourth place. The following year they finished
second. They finished first for the next three years and, in fact, have
been judged to be the best concert choir in the state in 12 of the 20
years they have entered - including the last eight years in a row. The
Counterpoints have also been successful in the realm of show choir competitions.
They won the first two state show choir competitions sponsored by ISSMA
and finished second last year. They also won the FAME competition in New
York in 2006 - competing against most of the top show choirs in the country.
Musical competitions have the potential to distort young singers' perspectives
as to what the real joys and purpose of music are. (Fire, one might add,
also has the potential to burn down Chicago.) Whether participation in
music competitions increases or attenuates a student's love of music depends
in large part on whether the person leading the choir is a good teacher
as well as a good director. As has been noted, the Counterpoints, in its
50 years of choral existence, has been fortunate to be blessed with individuals
who are both.
Donald E. Martin: 1958-1975 (17 years)
Participating in a group such as this forges many strong bonds and fond memories. "Once a Counterpoint, always a Counterpoint!"