Humanities & Cultural
Growing up as one of 13 children, John Wenning’s early life was often chaotic and confusing. As he approached his high school graduation, Wenning was unsure of what he wanted to do with his life. He had been taking piano lessons since the eighth grade, and Wenning’s mother encouraged him to consider a career in music. He headed to Ball State University with an eye toward a career in music performance.
Wenning was discouraged by the end of his sophomore year because he did not know what he was going to do with a music performance degree and left school to take a management job at the Bonanza restaurant where he’d worked part time. Wenning quickly realized he wanted to return to the classroom. After a tenuous semester without financial aid or access to university housing, he found himself with both a better scholarship and a new focus.
Encouraged by the dean of music, Wenning switched his studies from music performance to music education and earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Ball State. His teaching career took him to Huntington when a Ball State friend suggested that an opening at Huntington North High School would be a great fit. She was right.
Wenning sensed that the student body was ready to move beyond the swing/jazz choir offering to a show choir. After a first year with 16 students and an inaugural competition, the program grew to 40 students over a four-year period. Huntington North’s Varsity Singers soon became a force.
During his 28 years at Huntington North, the nationally-acclaimed Varsity Singers were named grand champions more than 70 times and received numerous awards for their outstanding vocal production, choreography, and instrumental back-up ensemble. The Varsity Singers also participated in the Indiana State School Music Association competition for mixed choirs for 17 consecutive years, placing in the top 16 choirs each year. In 1996, the Varsity Chamber Singers was named the Grand Champion concert choir for the State of Indiana — the highest honor a choral ensemble can achieve.
Although Wenning has had a number of naturally-talented students whose musical careers he has helped hone, he has a special passion for young people with untapped potential. He gets great satisfaction from encouraging those students to rise above what they thought was possible. “I’ve tried to help them see what success looks and feels like, if even on a limited scale, so they can understand that it is achievable,” he says. “Like myself, I want them to overcome their circumstances, not fall victim to them.”
Wenning served 14 years on the board of directors for the Indiana Choral Directors Association as the Show Choir Repertoire and Standards Chairman. He was selected as Teacher of the Year by the Huntington County Community Schools and Educator of the Year by the Huntington County Rotary Club in 1994. In 2006, Wenning was recognized by Ball State University and the School of Music with the Alumni Achievement Citation. In 2009, he received the Golden Apple Award.
Wenning retired from Huntington County Community Schools in 2015 and moved to Plainfield, Indiana, where he still works with show choirs as an arranger, clinician and adjudicator for schools, festivals, and competitions.