After 27 years of choral directing at Butler University, associate music professor Henry Leck is retiring.
Leck, 66, announced to the university choir and chorale last Wednesday that this semester would be his last teaching at Butler.
He said his decision comes, in part, from a desire to spend more time with his family, including his four grandchildren.
On Tuesday, President Jim Danko announced that Leck has been awarded emeritus status.
Leck has accomplished much here.
He became a faculty member at Butler in 1986. He began as an adjunct instructor, leading the university choir and eventually giving conducting lessons.
Now the director of choral activities at Butler, Leck works with students with varying musical backgrounds.
The university choir is unique in that members do not have to audition. Some students have years of choral experience while some have never sung before.
Leck works with his musically diverse choir three times per week, teaching them how to blend their voices together.
A specialist in Dalcroze Eurhythmics, Leck is known for encouraging his choir members to move their arms while singing, adding emotional support to their voices.
“He’s particular, and he makes you a better singer,” said freshman Brady Davis, a university choir member. “He rewards effort when he sees it.”
Outside of teaching, Leck also wrote the textbook “Creating Artistry Through Choral Excellence” during his tenure at Butler.
Leck is known internationally in the choral world as the founder of the Indianapolis Children’s Choir, which began in 1986.
He said he was inspired after seeing the Chicago Children’s Choir and wanted to start a similar organization in Indianapolis.
“There were already great choirs in Indianapolis,” Leck said. “But there was not one that could draw in kids from all across the city regardless of socio-economic status or race. And that’s what I wanted to do.”
The choir that Leck started quickly grew into an empire. The ICC tours across the world and is recognized as one of the best youth choirs in the United States.
However, the ICC was missing one thing: a home.
Leck found that home for the ICC at Butler University, which offers the choir a safe and consistent rehearsal space.
The ICC and Butler have a mutually beneficial relationship.
“It gives the choir a safe place to rehearse and an opportunity for music education students to work with children in music,” Leck said.
In addition, the choir carries Butler’s name wherever it tours, including across the country and overseas.
Leck’s work in choral music with college students and children has affected many lives.
He estimates that roughly 10,000 children have gone through the ICC program.
A few of its past members have sung on Broadway, and many have gone on to careers in music education.
Leck’s colleagues agree that he is gifted in working with children.
“I have always been inspired by his energy and his ability to connect with students,” voice professor Eric Stark said. “Regardless of what their background in music might be, he can communicate with them in a way that helps them discover their own musical ability.”
Several graduate students came to Butler primarily to study with Leck.
Bryan Stenson, a graduate student who has known and worked with Leck since junior high school, said Leck helped interest him children’s choirs.
Leck’s humility and status in the choral world also persuaded Stenson to study with him at Butler.
“He’s a legend,” Stenson said. “But I think, in his own mind, he’s still just Henry Leck. He’s very real.”
Leck will conduct the university choir and chorale for the last time March 23, when they will sing Maurice Durufle’s “Requiem.”
The haunting, beautiful piece is one of Leck’s favorites. He conducted it at Butler once before over a decade ago.
“I identify with the harmonic language and the compositional techniques, which are so intriguing and extraordinary,” Leck said. “I’ve always wanted to conduct it again.”
Leck plans to conduct and educate across the globe after his retirement from Butler, in addition to continuing his work with the ICC.
Leck will also continue teaching as an honorary associate professor at the Hong Kong Institute of Education.
Although Leck is retiring from Butler, his contributions to the school will be long lasting.
“His legacy will be in music education,” Stark said. “He’s inspired students to do what they do, and that’s something that’s irreplaceable.”
Leck’s influence has spread from the city of Indianapolis to every corner of the world.
“Henry Leck is more than a human being,” Stenson said. “He’s an icon.”
Despite the acclaim, Leck said his students are the reason he will be remembered.
“The legacy of any teacher,” Leck said, “is the gift that’s been brought to their students.”