Thrilled to just be nominated for big honor, HNHS choir director flabbergasted to be winner

Aaron Childress, director of choirs at Huntington North High School, holds the Vocal Vanguard Award, which he won at the Aspire Awards on May 4, at Genesee Theatre, in Waukegan, IL. The Aspire Awards recognize the show choir industry’s best and brightest members. The Vocal Vanguard Award is given to the nation’s top director.
Aaron Childress, director of choirs at Huntington North High School, holds the Vocal Vanguard Award, which he won at the Aspire Awards on May 4, at Genesee Theatre, in Waukegan, IL. The Aspire Awards recognize the show choir industry’s best and brightest members. The Vocal Vanguard Award is given to the nation’s top director. Photo by Steve Clark.

Aaron Childress, director of choirs at Huntington North High School, was in the running for the Vocal Vanguard Award at the 2019 Aspire Awards.

The Aspire Awards recognize the show choir industry’s best and brightest members. The award Childress was up for is given to the nation’s top director.

“All the winners in the past are these people that I’ve looked up to forever,” says Childress. “I’ve been doing this for 14 years; some of them have been doing it for 30 years and they kind of were the pioneers of the profession.

“It was an honor just to kind of even be included in their names.”

Childress had no expectation of winning the award. He was so certain of this, in fact, that he sat far away from the stage, up in the balcony of the awards venue, the Genesee Theatre in Waukegan, IL. Seated with Huntington North show choir members, who had performed in the FAME Show Choir National Finals earlier that day, May 4, Childress remembers goofing around, practicing his “sad face” for when he lost the award.

“Just joking, not really trying to take it too seriously,” says Childress.

What happened next was no joke.

Below on the stage, the winner of the Vocal Vanguard Award was announced: “Aaron Childress!”

Childress was flabbergasted. Despite reeling from the shock of hearing his own name, he willed himself to stand.

“And then I had to run, Mach speed,” he says.

Childress rushed down a flight of stairs, scrambling to get up to the stage.

“And then I couldn’t find a door to get into,” he recounts. “So, I’m trying all these locked doors to try to get out on the stage.

“And then I finally get out there. And I’m out of breath.”

After composing himself, Childress proceeded to give his acceptance speech, which he made up on the spot.

“I remember thanking Bert Johnson, the guy from FAME,” he recalls. “I remember thanking the kids.
“And then everything went blank in my mind from that point forward.”

While the shock of winning the award has worn off, the mystery of who recommended his name for it persists, says Childress.
“It’s a nomination process and I’m not quite sure how that works, because I’ve not really voted for it,” he says. “But I know that they have open voting in January and it’s usually show choir industry people; so, people that are directors, choreographers, costume designers, people that work directly with show choir programs.

“It’s nationwide, so anybody can be nominated. Anybody can kind of nominate someone.”

What Childress does know is that the show choir season leading up to the award was a good one for Huntington North. Currently in his first year at the school, Childress says show choir members embraced his vision for the program early on and that he’s grateful for that.

“They’ve been really hungry to learn from the start,” says Childress. “As a teacher, that’s what you want to see. You want kids to come eager to work.

“If you are caught out in the hallway, talking to somebody or doing something, and you walk in and they’ve already started and they’re already on, it’s stuff like that that just kind of sets the tone and sets the bar.”

The show choirs set the bar high. In March, at the Indiana State School Music Association (ISSMA) Show Choir Finals, the Varsity Singers captured second place in the mixed finals of the small school division. They took home awards for Best Visuals and Best Student Instrumental Group.

The Viking Volume competed in the unisex finals of the small school division and also placed second. They claimed the award for Best Visuals as well.

Two months later, at the FAME Show Choir National Finals, Viking Volume earned second runner-up honors in the unisex division.

In recognition of the show choirs’ decorated season, ISSMA bestowed Huntington North with one of its coveted All-Music awards.

“We got a great big banner that I got to unveil to them and we’ll get to hang that,” says Childress proudly.

While the show choir season yielded accolades for both the choirs and Childress himself, he says there are things more important than trophies.
“I don’t want that to be the pinnacle,” he says of the award. “Because it’s not about awards for us and it’s not about awards for me ... It’s about those moments with the kids when you see that joy on their face.”

While Childress may have capped the season with winning a prestigious award, he says you won’t find him resting on his laurels.

“I think, if anything, there’s more pressure to keep doing well,” he says, “and to be better and to take it to that next level.”