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Sagamore award music to teacher’s ears

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Eric Stark has touched many people through his years of teaching music and leading musical groups. Recently, he was honored for those efforts.

The Columbus native was named a Sagamore of the Wabash, one of Indiana’s highest individual honors. It is bestowed by Gov. Mike Pence.

Stark was in the middle of conducting the Indianapolis Symphonic Choir in a rendition of Benjamin Britten’s “War Requiem” on April 15 when state Rep. Dan Forestal, D-Indianapolis, and about 25 guests stepped onstage to surprise him with the news, according to a Butler University news release.

“I almost always have something to say,” Stark said after receiving a standing ovation from the 200-member choir and guests.

“But tonight I’m absolutely speechless. This will take a while to sink in. But I’m touched and honored and incredibly humbled.”

Stark’s maternal grandfather, businessman J. Kirby Risk, was named a Sagamore of the Wabash in 1969.

Forestal delivered the award at Butler’s Howard L. Schrott Center for the Arts, flanked by a contingent that included Stark’s mother, Sherry Stark, and stepfather, David Tiede; Stark’s brother Chris and sister-in-law Ann; and cousin Julie Moll and her husband, Tom.

“To say Dr. Eric Stark is deserving of this recognition is an understatement,” Forestal said. “The role he has played in enriching our community can be seen in many ways, but mostly in the lives of the people he has guided through the years. Through his great service, untold numbers have gained a greater appreciation of the power of music and have used that knowledge to entertain and enrich the lives of others.”

Stark is Butler’s director of choral activities and its Symphonic Choir artistic director. He began teaching at Butler in 1996 and is in his 12th season as artistic director of the Indianapolis Symphonic Choir. The Wabash College alumnus received his master’s and doctoral degrees from Indiana University Jacobs School of Music.

Stark also has four CD recordings to his name and multiple new music commissions. He has conducted at Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center and Strathmore Music Center, and in Bolivia, Argentina, Brazil, throughout Europe, Asia and the United States.

Michael Pettry, executive director of the Symphonic Choir, took a conducting class taught by Stark while in graduate school.

“Eric is an incredible leader, and I’ll tell you why,” Pettry said. “You wouldn’t know that he’s leading. Anybody who’s been in his choir or who’s been in a committee meeting — as exciting as those are — with Eric sees the quiet, hands-off sort of leadership that Eric exudes. He’s a true educator through and through.”

The Sagamore, bestowed by Gov. Mike Pence, is considered among the greatest honors to come from our state’s chief executive. It is a tribute given to those who have provided a valued service to Indiana and its people. Sagamore recipients include astronauts, presidents, ambassadors, artists, musicians and ordinary citizens who have contributed to the Hoosier heritage.

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