National award presented to Seymour High School music program


Seymour Community School Corp. received national recognition for music education in 2018.

It was among 583 school districts out of 13,600 entries nationwide selected for the National Association for Music Merchants’ Best Communities for Music Education Award in part for the opportunities students have to learn and perform music.

From that honor, Kyle Karum, director of choral music at Seymour High School, heard about the association’s SupportMusic Merit Award.

That is an opportunity for an individual school (public, private, parochial or charter) to be acknowledged for its commitment to music education.

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This year, after processing thousands of applications, Seymour High School was among only 98 schools receiving the award.

“Like last year’s Best Communities for Music Education Award, it was a long process, but I felt it was important to at least try,” Karum said. “We are thrilled to be recognized by this organization for all the hard work our students put into the musical arts. Their focus, determination and skill sets have certainly paid off today. This is a monumental win for the music program here at SHS.”

Since the corporation won the national award last year, Karum said he thought the other honor looked good, too.

“We got to celebrate the district last year, and I wanted to see where we stacked up as far as schools,” he said.

In January, he filled out the application for the choirs and marching band, providing demographics, awards earned, conferences and festivals attended and results and literature performed. The information included listing the number of participants in the school’s music program and how that percentage compared to other schools.

Karum said Seymour High School stands out because around 600 students, or more than one-third of the population, are involved in the music program.

So what has contributed to the surge in music students in recent years?

The department’s staff has a lot to do with it, Karum said. He is joined by assistant choir director Karla Shutters, band director Kevin Cottrill and assistant band directors Kyle Lutes and Debbie Carroll at Seymour High School.

“Kevin Cottrill has been doing great work with the band,” Karum said. “I think he does amazing work. He picks really good literature that they like to play, and he’s very engaging with the students. Then on top of that, he has a great team behind him with Debbie Carroll and Kyle Lutes, who are really strong personnel of that staff.”

Karum also credits his No. 1 recruiting philosophy: Quality.

“Kids are less likely to join something if it’s bad, and I think this award is a good indication of the work that the kids have done and the quality that they’ve put on the stage,” he said. “With the music program, it’s more about culture, and it’s more about the people, the students, that serve as leaders and really helping them reach their max potential and put a great product onstage through a great process.”

Liam Combs is in Chamber Choir and Varsity Chorale. He said he likes the songs the choir sings and the musical that the Varsity Chorale puts on.

“One way that I benefit is that I’ve made so many friends and a new family in this program,” he said. “It got me out of a really bad place in my sophomore year and basically saved me.”

Peyton Kistler, who has been involved in choir since sixth grade, said there is constant creative freedom in the music program.

“Ideas are taken seriously. Suggestions are always considered. In some cases, they are given a try and embraced,” he said.

He has benefited creatively and through personal growth.

“On one hand, I am able to express myself musically and further expand my interest in music. Also, I can step out of my comfort zone, giving things like acting and choreography a try,” Kistler said.

“On the other hand, Mr. Karum does a fantastic job making the entirety of the choir program less like classmates and more like brothers and sisters,” he said. “That makes us able to establish connections with those around us and become close with them. Those personal connection we are allowed to have is something I cherish very much so.”

Kistler said Karum’s direction has allowed the choirs to be where they are now.

“He is highly respected for his personality and his drive to direct and make music with the rest of us instead of to the rest of us,” he said. “We stand out because of him, and we are where we are because of him.”

Kistler said music made by the director and pianist could make or break the entire experience.

“For the two years I’ve been in the choir program at SHS, those have been the absolute best years of music making I’ve had in my entire time being involved in choir programs,” he said. “It’s thanks to them that I can enjoy such an experience I will never forget.”

Four-year choir member Ella Andres said being a part of the music program made an impact on her life.

“I like that while training our voices, we also learn about becoming better people and working well with others because it’s not just one person to make a sound. It’s everyone together with all of the fundamentals that makes us successful,” she said. “I feel as if I gain a better understanding of music theory, and the biggest benefit of all is the friendships you build and the great things that come when you work as a team.”

Each year she was in choir, Andres said everyone significantly improved.

“The more improvement, the more I believe we deserve the award,” she said. “Without dedication from us and our director, there wouldn’t be as big of a crowd to our last musical or the number of people at our concert or the chance of us going to state qualifiers.”

Levi Croquart has been involved in choir since elementary school and said he plans on being in band next school year.

He said the music program gets students out of their comfort zone and allows them to accomplish things they wouldn’t have thought of doing on their own.

“My first day of choir, I didn’t know how to read music, and now, I’m writing my own,” he said. “I benefit from the music program because I want my later-in-life career to be centered around music. It might sound foolish or cliche, but I want to become a rock star. If John Mellencamp, a person I look up to with the utmost respect and awe, can do it, why can’t I? I guess we will see.”

Jessica Sanchez, a two-year choir member, said she has been able to grow as a singer and participate with other musicians.

“I get experience from all the places I go with choir and all the concerts we sing together,” she said. “It helps me grow away from stage fright and be more confident.”

She said the award is proof that the music program is advancing and students’ knowledge toward music is expanding every day.

“A lot of our classmates in band and choir are go-getters,” Sanchez said. “We go toward what we want and work hard for it. Sometimes, we don’t get to our goals, so we create new goals or we try harder to reach the goals we made first.”

Karum said he and the other directors look forward to further growth in numbers and quality.

“I tell all of my choir kids, ‘There’s a home for you in the Seymour High School choirs,’ and I think that would also extend to the band program,” Karum said. “We’ve got room to grow. I think this is not quite our peak as far as numbers or quality. I think we’re going to keep moving up.”

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For the full list of the 98 schools earning the SupportMusic Merit Award, visit


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