When he was working on his doctorate in choral conducting, Eric Stark would come home to Indianapolis from Bloomington, have dinner, then drive to Butler University and sneak into one of the practice rooms in Lilly Hall to do his homework because he needed access to a piano.
“I would always think: If I could only get a job at a place like this,” he says.
In 1996, he did, and since then his choral activities have taken him to Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center, and around the world. The next stop is Brazil, where he will be a Fulbright Scholar conducting and studying in residence during the first half of 2020 at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul in Porto Alegre, Brazil.
For Stark, Butler’s Director of Choral Activities, it’s another milestone in a career filled with them.
Over the years, he has conducted in the Oriental Art Center Concert Hall in Shanghai and the Forbidden City Concert Hall in Beijing. He has made conducting appearances in Greece, Italy, Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, and Uruguay, and has led choirs on domestic tours in New York City, Boston, Atlanta, Chicago, New Orleans, Orlando, and Tampa.
When Madonna performed Like a Prayer at halftime of Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis, Stark directed a 200-person choir that included 22 members of the Butler Chorale.
“I’m astounded this is my life, this is my career, because you roll the dice on being a musician and you just never know what’s going to happen,” he says.
Stark plans to teach at Butler through the 2019 fall semester—he’s still leading the popular Rejoice! holiday concerts—then leave for Brazil over winter break. The school year in Brazil starts in March, so he and his husband, Adriano Caldeira, who is Brazilian, will travel around the country in January and February to observe some music-making.
Stark will teach at Federal University from March through June. He will be teaching in Portuguese—some of which he already knows from studying the language for a couple of years (“I feel like I could lead a rehearsal right now in Portuguese”), and some of which he’s going to learn this summer at the University of Coimbra in Portugal, thanks to a grant from Butler.
In addition to his work at Butler, Stark has been Artistic Director of the Indianapolis Symphonic Choir since 2002.
The Fulbright Program awards approximately 8,000 grants annually. Roughly 1,600 U.S. students, 4,000 foreign students, 1,200 U.S. scholars, and 900 visiting scholars receive awards, in addition to several hundred teachers and professionals.
Stark discovered his love for music growing up in Columbus, Indiana, where he was inspired by the music at First Presbyterian Church. He sang in church choirs for 12 years and took piano and organ lessons from the choir director, Ray Hass.
The church, he says, was his musical awakening.
“He was a great musician and a great organist, and I can remember even as a 7 or 8 year old how much I enjoyed hearing him play the organ,” he says. “That tickled something in my head I had never been aware of before. From time to time, I take the Butler Chorale down there and we sing concerts at that church, which is always fun.”
Stark earned his bachelor’s from Wabash College, and both his master’s and doctorate in choral conducting from Indiana University.
When a job opened at Butler, Henry Leck, Butler’s longtime Director of Choral Activities, got Stark in to see then-Dean Michael Sells, who hired Stark on a one-year, part-time contract. That turned into a one-year appointment, and then a full-time hiring. In the interim, Stark also taught at Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne, and Christian Theological Seminary.
In 2014, he succeeded Leck as Butler’s Director of Choral Activities.
“It’s no surprise to any of us in the Jordan College of the Arts that the significance of Eric’s work as a choral conductor and pedagogue has been recognized on an international level,” says Lisa Brooks, Dean of Butler’s Jordan College of the Arts. “The connections he will make while in South America will be invaluable to our students, and to the greater Indianapolis community.”
Stark says he’s hopeful that his time in Brazil will lead to interesting partnerships and projects.Indianapolis has a sister city relationship with Campinas, Brazil, just outside Sao Paulo, and there is “a lot of multinational cross pollination between businesses here and there.”
“There’s positives on all sides of the equation, and that’s what’s so exciting for me about this—that possibility of sharing,” he says. “Maybe I’ll meet some undergraduate students in Brazil who study with me and might want to come to Butler for graduate studies. That’s happened in the past. I’m certain that folks down there would love to do a concert date together with the Butler Chorale or the Symphonic Choir or both down the road. That’s pretty exciting to think about.”