PART NINE: My Choir, Your Choir, Chicago's Choir: A History of Wicker Park Choral Singers, 2008 - 2012
By the time I was ready to meet with “The Gentleman” and his “Lady,” again, I had encountered so many different kinds of choir members, my head was spinning. Singing administrators, consultants, teachers, commodity traders, engineers, architects, MORE lawyers, hell…even a law enforcement official. It was completely fascinating to me. I mean, Mark had said that his choir was an adoptive family, a community, but I had no idea that so many sorts would come out to audition—that so many people had hidden (or not so hidden) musical talents. I told him as much over a round of drinks, back at the pub where it all started.
“I know,” he said. “It’s completely amazing. I mean, in the first round of auditions, we accepted 50% of the singers, and now we can only let about 10% of auditionees in to the group. And the people who join us are just great. They take on extra roles in the choir, they offer experience and expertise, and they really just provide a whole set of musical cornerstones.”
Angela set her hand over Mark’s and gave it a squeeze. “He’s such an optimist.”
“Well, he has reason to be, I think,” I reviewed my scads of notes. “Based on the choristers I talked to, the time they put in, the volunteer organizations that help you out…I figured you would have to kiss a lot of rings. But it looks here as though everyone was just crazy generous.”
“That’s the weird thing about it all,” Mark scratched his head and then gave me an open-handed gesture of complaisance. “The generosity was far more than I ever expected. It feels great to be able to pay it forward, you know.”
I called for another round. “How do you do that? Pay it forward?”
Mark smiled. Not a ‘the-guy-who-just-jumped-out-of-the-birthday-cake-plugged-the-right-mobster’ smile. A gen-u-ine grin from ear to ear. “In any way I can.”
The whiskeys arrived. I shoved the last sip of my first tumbler over toward Angela’s mink. It stuck its head inside the glass.
* * * * *
Mark worked incredibly hard on his choir—paying it forward for their commitment and time and patience. In conjunction with his day job (which requires 50+ hours of work a week) he quickly discovered that it would take him further hours of time, per song, outside of rehearsal just to be able to stand up in front of the choir and conduct with any sense of confidence. Panache and go-getter attitude were only going to get him so far. At some point he had to just go in front of a jury of his peers, some of whom had more conducting experience than him, and try to conduct accurately, mitigate chaos, value everyone’s opinions, overcome feelings of embarrassment, and learn to forgive himself for mistakes. People dropped out from time to time, and he had to learn to not take it personally. He had to combat friends at other times, while still maintaining relationships and building self-confidence.
All in all, he had to learn to meet the needs that were central to the choir and then ask other people to pay it forward, too—to add to the growing identity of the choir rather than finding fault with it. To learn how to help, to fit in, and to advance the goals of the community.
And he had to pay it forward to the audience—to deliver on a solid performance at the end of each concert season in order to thank them for their generosity, support, enthusiasm.
Because, in the end, isn’t it really about them? The audience?
Of course, the choral experience happens within the choir. Each of the singers is, or should be, very passionate about their relationship to the music and to each other. Give and take within the group is necessary because they are not soloists—that’s the whole point. And they could very easily make music just for themselves. They don’t have to make music in interaction with an audience for it to be enjoyable to make music.
But the audience makes the experience different. They deserve to be a part of the music. If trained singers can lose themselves in the notes and find a place of calm amidst the storms brewing in their heads, then imagine what music does for people who cannot read notes—who cannot make that music on their own when they need it most. The choir gives a very simple and incredibly meaningful gift to the audience. They give music. And music never asks to be regarded as anything other than beautiful, even when, as Mr. Magnificent pointed out, it is difficult and full of atonal chord clusters in some Eastern European dialect.
When the choir started, the impetus was not the audience. And now, it very much is. The choral experience is not just for the choir, it’s for the public at large. Such a challenge, and such a reward.