PART SIX: My Choir, Your Choir, Chicago's Choir: A History of Wicker Park Choral Singers, 2008 - 2012
I made my way out of the banquet hall and hailed a cab. It was early in the day. I had time for another interview, and I was particularly curious about this one. I gave my driver the address, leaned back in my seat, and smiled to myself in amusement. The cab dropped me off a little while later, and I hopped down onto the pavement, greeted by a plethora of garish colors and animal smells. The circus. I laced my way through the cluster, evading an elephant, a few acrobats, and a monkey on a unicycle.
And then I found the tent I was looking for. “Matthew the Magnificent Man of Muscle!!!” There was nowhere to knock, so I just called out from the entrance.
“COME IN” said a deep booming voice. Jeez Louise, his voice alone was too big for the tent, how was he supposed to fit the rest of himself in it? I stepped inside.
Matthew stood up to greet me and extended his gigantic hand. “GOOD TO MEET YOU,” he cleared his throat. “Sorry, so used to shouting things. Good to meet you.”
“Likewise,” I managed, shaking his hand. “Not about the shouting, about the meeting,” I said nervously. “Sorry, it’s just…you could crush me.”
“So you’re here to talk about choir, eh?” he said, twirling his handlebar moustache.
“Yes,” I said, taking out my notebook. “And, my apologies, but I have to ask. How does a circus guy like you end up in a choir?”
He laughed. “Yeah, that’s a fair question. Well, to be perfectly honest, this is just my side job. I lift weights for fun and join the circus when it comes through town. By day I’m a high school music teacher.”
“You don’t say. I bet your students don’t give you any guff.”
“My rule is, you can’t mouth off to me if I can bench press you…” he paused and raised an eyebrow, waiting for my obvious question.
“Can you bench—”
“Yeah, all of ‘em,” he interrupted proudly.
“That’s only marginally terrifying,” I muttered. “Um, what can you tell me about choir?”
“Well, I joined pretty early on. The choir actually came and sang at my high school in January 2009, which was great. And we did a one year anniversary concert on July 11, 2009, which was…a little odd, you know. One year is not the time to start getting nostalgic.”
“Fair enough,” I said. “What can you tell me about being, you know, a big tough guy in a music ensemble?”
He waved his enormous arm in dismissal of my question. “The choir has never been about maintaining the status quo,” he said. “We always aim to break the mold, musically, and the members come from all over the place. It’s not just for professional musicians and geeks.”
“How do you break the mold?”
“Do you know how many languages I’ve sung in…?” he paused and raised an eyebrow again.
“How many lang—”
“That’s nutty,” I said, suitably impressed. “How else do you break the mold?”
“We just do all sorts of music. Pieces that have movement to them. Pieces that require us to split in half and sing back and forth to each other. Pieces that challenge the audience to think about how intricate and peculiar music can sound, and how that’s really wonderful.”
“What if the audience doesn’t want to be challenged?” I asked.
“Oh, we have great audiences that really appreciate the music Mark picks. Some of their favorite songs are the ones that are a little bit of an experiment or daring.” He laughed his booming laugh. “And we always reward their efforts with crowd pleasers.”
“Eric Whitacre. People love Eric Whitacre. Oh, and spirituals. We usually do a spiritual as an encore. We know what they come to hear. They want to know if Ezekiel saw that wheel…” he paused. The eyebrow.
I fell right into it. “Did he see—”
“Yeah, he totally saw it.”
I thanked Matthew for his time and stepped back out into the sun with two tickets to the circus in my jacket pocket. I glanced down at my list of names. This was getting interesting…
To Be Continued...