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Wicker Park Choral Singers

Building community through choral music

Wicker Park Choral Singers is a Chicago-based all-volunteer choir dedicated to building community through choral music. 

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Meet composer Elizabeth Lim

Elizabeth was one of our Call for Scores contest winner. Her piece "Clark Street Bridge" was composed for the contest and we are proud to give its world premiere at our June 22nd concert. We caught up with Elizabeth and got to know a little bit more about her background and her inspiration for "Clark Street Bridge."

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Program Notes for "It Takes a Village"- Follow Along!

I It Takes a Village ……………………………….. Joan Szymko

II Dort'n, Dort'n ……………………………………. arr. Robert DeCormier Noel Ayisyen ……………………………………… Emile Desamours

III Pueblito, mi Pueblo ……………………………. Carlos Guastavino The Spheres ……………………………………….. Ola Gjeilo

IV This Marriage …………………………………….. Eric Malmquist Wana Baraka ……………………………………… arr. Shawn L. Kirchner

V Walk Together Children ………………………. arr. Moses Hogan Bogoroditse Devo ……………………………….. Sergei Rachmaninoff from Vsénoshchnoye bdéniye, Op. 37

VI Shout the Glad Tidings …………………………… Ned Rorem Ave Verum Corpus ……………………………….. William Byrd

VII Twa Tanbou …………………………………………. Sydney Guillaume

 

PROGRAM NOTES

It Takes a Village.......Joan Szymko (b. 1957)

Eric Brummitt, baritone & Sharon DeCaro, shekere|Angela Tomasino, djembe|Andy LoDolce, conga

It takes a whole village to raise our children It takes a whole village to raise one child We all every one must share the burden We all every one will share the joy.

- Adaptation from West African folklore

Our concert’s namesake, Joan Szymko’s It Takes a Village, is a relatively simple, but profound nonetheless, setting of a proverb popularly attributed to the Igbo people of Nigeria. Interestingly, there has been quite a bit of speculation about the specific origin of the proverb, much of it arriving in the wake of then-First Lady Hillary Clinton’s book of the same name. As it happens, there are many African cultures that seem to share this creed: In the Ugandan kingdom of Bunyoro, for instance, there is a proverb that says, Omwana takulila nju emoi, the literal translation of which is, “A child does not grow up only in a single home.” Additionally, in Swahili, the proverb asiyefunzwa na mamae hufunzwa na ulimwengu approximates to “despite a child's (biological) parents, its upbringing belongs to the community.” The apparent widespread nature of these proverbs throughout the continent speaks powerfully, I think, to the universality of our concert theme.

The idea of unity in It Takes a Village is musically depicted primarily in the way in which the voices grow together. The piece begins with a solo singer and expands, first into unison sopranos, altos, and tenors, and then into three- and finally four-part harmony. Szymko has, in her own words, “sought to embody the cultural concept behind the proverb—that it is truly ALL the individual parts linked and working together that create and support the whole. The four vocal rhythms in the main portion of the work, each with its own character and function, are essential to creating the unique energy and movement of Village. Only when they are sung together does a truly joyful spirit arise.” –ED

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Dortn, Dortn.........arr. Robert DeCormier (b. 1922) Sung in Yiddish Melissa Curtis, soprano

Far off across the water, Far off over the bridge, You have driven me to distant lands, Yet I long for you.

Oh help me God, oh God in heaven, For I am sick with love. Three whole years we’ve played at love But never loved, and play on still. Oh your eyes, like black cherries, And your lips, like rosy paper, And your fingers, like pen and ink, Oh, write to me often, and soon!

While you might hear Yiddish songs today in concert or at social gatherings of Yiddish speakers, their natural venue was the village, or shtetl, of Eastern Europe or America where you could hear them through open windows in courtyards, or from busy people humming their way from place to place.

Although best known for his vociferous spirituals (some of you may even remember WPCS’ rendition of Let Me Fly), Robert DeCormier arranges this traditional Jewish love poem with more of an introspective feel. While the form is rather simple, DeCormier adds touches of word painting throughout. One example is the oscillating harmony lines of the Soprano, Tenor, and Bass parts in the beginning, which paints a picture of rolling waves on a distant sea. All 4 parts join in for “I pray that heaven above….”, followed by a lovely solo voice that finishes the prayer. The piece ends with more imagery of the sea and great distance. –BP

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Noél Ayisyen........Emile Desamours (b. 1941) Sung in Creole

It was in Bethelhem, A little corner of Judea, That Mary had a baby boy At midnight in a stable. He was the Son of God And he was the King of Kings. Since I was a little child I’ve known this story.

There were three wise kings Who followed a great star With gifts in their hands To come worship the child. And they were quite amazed When they saw little Jesus Lying between a cow And a donkey.

Hear that, my friends! Noel is a strange story indeed! Jesus, Son of God, King of Kings, Doesn’t even have a cradle. He sleeps on the straw among animals…Oh my!

They called him Woderful, Counselor, Mighty God; The Everlasting Father, too; And he was the Prince of Peace. Both shepherds and wisemen Bowed down to worship him. They gave him gifts According to what they had.

Back then, if we’d been there, We’d have done something fitting, We’d have offered him music Of the best Haitian kind. We’d have brought drums, Manniboulas, vaccins, maracas

With fine banjo strums We’d have charmed little Jesus.

Jesus, Jesus, our little Jesus, We love you greatly. You bring peace to all people And you offer us grace.

Noel, Noel, Noel, long live Noel!

Noél Ayisyen (Haitian Noël) by Emile Desamours is a retelling of the story of Jesus’s birth, but with a distinct twist that is utterly Haitian. Like Twa Tambou, another Haitian piece on our program, the sonic atmosphere of Noél is characterized by singers’ imitations of traditional Haitian folk instruments. In this case, these are: the vaccin, a bamboo woodwind instrument; the manniboula, a plucked string bass instrument; the banjo; and maracas. Desamours, who serves as director of Voix et Harmonie (Haiti’s premier folk choir), is certainly no stranger to these instruments, and they are included in this Nativity story as musical offerings to newborn Christ: “Back then, if we’d been there, we’d have done something fitting, we’d have offered him music of the best Haitian kind,” as Desamours’s delightful lyrics proclaim.

For centuries, music has played an invaluable part in Haiti’s cultural identity. One of the country’s most popular festivals of music is Rara, a kind of boisterous, musical parade that travels through the Haitian streets, with musicians singing and playing all the instruments Desamours lists as they march. The sonic effect of the Rara is imitated in Noél Ayisyen—the choir’s voices gradually increase in volume, evoking the sound of an approaching mass, and the instrumental impressions become more pronounced. Desamours’s homage both to the traditional Christian story of Jesus’s birth and to his own Haitian roots (songs sung in the Rara celebrate the African ancestry of the Afro-Haitian people) creates not only a wonderfully unique sound, but also a powerful synthesis of cultures that perfectly represents our concert theme. –ED

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Pueblito, mi Pueblo.................Carlos Guastavino (1912-2000) Sung in Spanish Claire Maude, soprano | Jonathan Schildt, piano

O village so lovely I miss all those fine days. My heart is within you; I cannot forget you.

Homesickness cirlces around me, Filling my soul through the day’s hours. If I could have one more chance, Under the tree I would dream, Seeing the clouds that are passing. Ah! And when the sun sets each night, I’d feel the breeze passing by, Fragrances floating from blossoms.

- Francisco Silva

Written by Carlos Guastavino, “The Schubert of the Pampas,” this romantic, nostalgic Argentinian piece purposely avoids avante-garde, modernist style in the interests of preserving a conservative tone. This does not mean that Guastavino is backwards looking or uninspired—his use of lush melody and his commitment to preserving Argentinian folk music put him on the cutting edge of nationalist movements. He inspired pop and folk musicians throughout the 1960s. And even after his death, Argentinians continued his important work by founding an organization in his name, dedicated partially to the performance of his pieces, but more broadly devoted to the furthering of musical, academic, and national arts in Argentina. -EC

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The Spheres..........Ola Gjeilo (b. 1978) Sung in Latin

Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.

The Spheres, by Norwegian composer Ola Gjeilo, represents a departure from the traditional conception of “community”: it is not about how we relate to one another, but how we relate to, and how we make sense of, the otherworldly unknown. The Spheres is drawn from a larger work with a similar theme, Sunrise Mass, for choir and string orchestra. In four movements, Sunrise Mass marks the progression from the transparent and ethereal—The Spheres (Kyrie) and Sunrise (Gloria)—to something more earthy and grounded—The City (Credo) and Identity & The Ground (Sanctus).

Set here for a cappella chorus, The Spheres also represents the progression from “heaven to earth.” As Gjeilo describes, the floating, overlapping voices and slow progression of harmony in the opening section “give a sense of floating in space, in darkness and relative silence, surrounded by stars and planets light-years away.” After the choir builds massive tone clusters from ascending scales, the earlier ethereal texture gives way to a traditional chorale that presents the thematic material of the opening directly. The journey ends with the choir in unison, marking the full transition from disordered darkness to a comforting familiarity. –JS

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This Marriage………… Eric Malmquist (b. 1985) May these vows and this marriage be blessed. May it be sweet milk, this marriage, like wine and halvah. May this marriage offer fruit and shade like the date palm. May this marriage be full of laughter, our every day a day in paradise. May this marriage be a sign of compassion, a seal of happiness here and hereafter. May this marriage have a fair face and a good name, an omen as welcome as the moon in a clear blue sky. I am out of words to describe how spirit mingles in this marriage. -Rumi Local composer Eric Malmquist wrote This Marriage for the occasion of his wedding this past October. Using a simple four part texture and Mixolydian mode, the composer provides an ancient-sounding and other-worldly setting for Rumi’s 13th century Persian poem. One can hear the different voice parts space out and come back together in unison, symbolizing the union of two people. Eric’s bride, Stephanie Photakis Malmquist, happens to be a founding member of WPCS, and as such we were fortunate enough to perform this work as part of their wedding ceremony.

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Wana Baraka............arr. Shawn L. Kirchner (b. 1970) Sung in Swahili

They have blessings, those who pray; Jesus himself said so. Alleluia! They have peace They have joy They have well-being.

-Traditional Kenyan

This energetic piece combines multiple traditions in order to create a beautiful whole. First, the language of the piece is traditional in that Swahili is over 800 years old. It was created in the 1200s to facilitate business deals between Muslim sailors in the Indian Ocean and community leaders in the African interior. Second, the message of the piece, brotherhood and blessings, represents a much newer tradition of Christianity, introduced to the African continent by missionaries in the 1800s. And finally, the Swahili text and Christian message combine in the rhythms and cadences brought forward by oral history tropes, the oldest tradition of all. It takes all three traditions to make this piece what it is—a joyful celebration of hope and health that appears out on the horizon in a pianissimo, walks boldly forward throughout the song, building momentum, and then spreads an exuberant, fortissimo Alleluia at the end. -EC

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Walk Together Children............. arr. Moses Hogan (1957-2003)

There’s a great camp meetin’. Lawd, a great camp meetin’ in the promised lan’. Oh, walk together, children, don’t you get weary, Walk on, my children, don’t you get-a weary, Just-a walk together, children, don’t you get weary, There’s a great camp meetin’ in the promised lan’. Oh, walk together children, don’t you get weary, Sing on, my children, don’t you get-a weary, Just-a shout together, children, don’t you get weary, There’s a great camp meetin’, Yes, a great camp meetin’, There’s a great camp meetin’ in the promised lan’.

-Traditional

Born in New Orleans in 1957, Moses Hogan was a world-renowned arranger of African American spirituals, a gifted pianist, and a fine conductor. The traditional spiritual, Walk Together, Children is one of his most popular arrangements. For me, the piece also served as a memorable introduction to Moses Hogan, though I was only ten years old at the time.

In October 2001, Hogan worked on the piece, then in manuscript form, with Nova Singers, a professional choir founded and directed by my mother, Laura Lane. I attended rehearsals on occasion and quickly developed a fascination for Hogan’s Southern, gentlemanly manners. They trickled into his rehearsal style, in his kind insistence that the singers embrace the feeling and the diction exactly as he intended.

Hogan was as adamant about accurate performance practice as he was about respecting the tradition of the spiritual. His arrangement is constructed around slow and unhurried walking. The strong beat feels like it is in a slow two, with leans on beats one and three. He wanted a rich, warm sound, and called for, “All of your vibrato! Let me have all of it!” He wanted a dramatic, not energetic, slide into the final chord. The point was that despite repeated references to walking without tiring, the song is about the need to just take another step.

Through our interpretation we aim to honor this interpretation, and the piece’s history, while telling the story of hope for a better day to come with our modern-day context in mind. –LLS

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Bogoroditse Devo from Vsénoshchnoye bdéniye, Op. 37.............Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943) Sung in Church Slovanic

Rejoice, O virgin mother of God, Mary full of grace, The Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women, And blessed is the fruit of thy womb, For thou has borne the savior of our souls.

When Sergei Rachmaninoff wanted to marry Natalia Satina in 1902, there were two major problems in the eyes of the church; first, Natalia was his first cousin, and second, Rachmaninoff “steadfastly refused” to attend church services. The couple eventually worked their way around these problems by marrying in a military chapel, but the experience was one more strike against the Orthodox Church for Rachmaninoff. Despite his complicated relationship with Russia’s state religion, Rachmaninoff went on to write the All-Night Vigil in 1915, a piece lauded as the greatest achievement in Russian Orthodox music.

Bogoroditse Devo is the sixth movement of the All-Night Vigil (Vsénoshchnoye bdéniye), closing out the vespers portion of the liturgy. It is one of just five movements from the Vigil not directly based on traditional chant, though Rachmaninoff described it as a “conscious counterfeit” of chant. The movement splits into 6 parts at its climax, a joyful expression of praise to the Virgin Mary. This simple and beautiful piece is arguably the most beloved section of the Vigil. The Vigil was one of Rachmaninoff’s favorite pieces. At his request, the work was performed at his funeral in 1943. -CM

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Shout the Glad Tidings...............Ned Rorem (b. 1923)

Shout the glad tidings, exultingly sing, Jerusalem triumphs, Messiah is King!

Zion, the marvelous story be telling, The Son of the Highest, how lowly His birth! The brightest archangel in glory excelling, He stoops to redeem thee, He reigns upon earth.

Tell how He cometh; from nation to nation The heart cheering news let the earth echo round; How free to the faithful He offers salvation, His people with joy everlasting are crowned.

Mortals, your homage be gratefully bringing, And sweet let the gladsome hosannas arise; Ye angels, the full alleluias be singing; One [Chorus] resound through the earth and the skies.

Shout the glad tidings.

- William Augustus Muhlenberg American composer and writer Ned Rorem is one of today's leading composers of choral and solo vocal music. As famous for his diaries, essays, and letters as for his compositions, Rorem's love of the written word guides and informs his compositions.

Shout the Glad Tidings was commissioned by the church coir of St. Stephens in New York City in 1978. The church asked for a simple, brief piece that could be sung without much rehearsal. Rorem responded with this piece and two other short works comprising Three Choruses for Christmas. Set to a text by American clergyman, educator, and hymnodist William Augustus Muhlenberg, this piece maintains the homophonic, strophic structure of a traditional hymn, but includes some surprisingly modern modulations and harmonies. Overall, Rorem's writing is decidedly tonal and traditional – “complexity for its own sake bores me,” he has said.

Though many of his pieces use sacred texts, Rorem himself is an atheist. “I believe in Belief, but I have no Belief. Nevertheless, some of my most persuasive music has been settings of so-called sacred texts. I'm drawn to these texts, however, for their poetry, not for their sanctity. Religion, like love, can be as devastating as it is productive,” he said in a 1986 interview.

Rorem dislikes analyzing or explaining his work. ”What can I possibly say about this song that the words and the music don't say better?” he once said. “Once [a] song is finished it's up to God about whether the piece works or not-whether it bleeds and breathes. Whether you can live with it or not. However, I don't believe in God.” -CM

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Ave Verum Corpus............William Byrd (1540-1623)

English Translation Hail the true body, born of the Virgin Mary: You who truly suffered and were sacrificed on the cross for the sake of man. From whose pierced flank flowed water and blood: Be a foretaste for us in the trial of death. O sweet, O merciful, O Jesus, Son of Mary. Have mercy on me. Amen.

The Ave Verum Corpus, a 14th century hymn that is sung during a masses’ Eucharistic consecration, is one of the most widely used texts amongst sacred historical composers. Consequently, each composer’s edition seems to epitomize their respective overarching styles. Josquin, a Renaissance composer, uses polyphony to create a piece with multiple melodic lines running throughout in interlocking patterns. Mozart’s edition is in classical structure that is sung with vibrant symphony. Franz Liszt, who epitomizes late 19th century romantic impulses, utilizes more dissonance and unstructured form to convey the pain described in the words above. So what part does Byrd play in this historical narrative? To properly answer that, one must consider the culture in which Byrd lived.

16th Century England, under the charge of Queen Elizabeth I, was officially Protestant; and although Byrd was famous in his day, he constantly lived in fear of losing commissions because of his Catholic faith. Because of this, many of Byrd’s earlier sacred works were smaller in scope, and included phrases and musical suspensions meant to secretly signify the desire for equal protection for Catholics in England. By 1605, under the rule of King James I, Byrd felt comfortable enough to compose his most overtly Catholic book of songs, Gradualia. From this song set comes this beautiful setting of “Ave Verum Corpus”.

At the same time, styles from composers such as Thomas Tallis (Byrd’s mentor) and Thomas Luis de Victoria were making their way across Europe. This new breed of composer took the purely polyphonic phrasing that composers such as Josquin or Palestrina had created, and incorporated some chordal elements to help convey feelings of sadness or passion. As such, the works of Byrd, including “Ave Verum Corpus”, exhibit many of these same elements.

Putting the musical and cultural elements together, one finds a proudly religious piece, which isn’t afraid to examine one of the most sacred parts of the Catholic faith and mass. Similarly to earlier sacred works, the text is paramount to all phrasing, and is easy to understand. Instead of using a 4 part polyphonic form throughout, Byrd mixes the style with each phrase. This allows the listener to hear and process the text while still responding emotionally to the music. A good example of this starts with the phrase “O dulcis”, where the Soprano part begins independently, and is followed by the lower three voices. Each of the three phrases in this section ring together to signify their unified acknowledgement of Jesus’ sacrifice. However, by the time the text gets to “miserere”, there is a sudden switch to 4 part polyphony. This change thickens the musical texture, as if to show the multifaceted nature of “mercy”.

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Twa Tanbou...................Sydney Guillaume (b. 1982) Sung in Creole

Three drums Are having an argument A great Sunday morning On their way back from Guinea

A little Kata… A little Tanbouren… A big Boula…

Boula declared That he can hit the loudest Boula declared “I can hit the loudest!”

Tanbouren said “I have the most beautiful sound” He said “when I perform, keep quiet and listen!”

Kata who was hearing all this became angry He could not comprehend how two soldiers Who are dressed with the same outfit And are children of the same mother Are sitting around making a scandal

One fine Mardi-Gras day, Kata started to “zouk” Every single person there began to dance…

Tanbouren and Boula who were there listening To make the party more exciting, they started a great throng

That day, They all sang a song that I’ll never forget:

All drums that are dispersed Let’s put our shoulders together To make life more beautiful

- Louis M. Célestin

Sydney Guillaume, born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, blends his cultural roots with his American upbringing to create unique choral pieces. In Twa Tanbou, Guillaume contrasts the Creole text with drum-sound syllables to create a lively piece. Through simple harmonies and detailed rhythms, Guillaume tells Louis Marie Celesin’s story about three drums. The central theme of Twa Tanbou fits right in with the WPCS dream of a starfish world. In order for a team to reach its potential, each member must play his or her part with the whole community in mind. After the Boula drum brags about his volume and the Tanbouren drum calls for all to be quiet in order to listen to his beautiful sound, the little Kata drum reminds us that if everyone works together, we will make beautiful music! -LLS

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ABOUT THE CHOIR

Wicker Park Choral Singers believes in making world-class choral music accessible to the community and is committed to producing concerts that are free and open to the public. Through the enthusiasm and dedication of its members and support of its loyal donor community, WPCS has quickly grown from a grassroots effort in the spring of 2008 to an established performing arts ensemble in the Chicago area. With repertoire ranging from Renaissance motets to contemporary works of today’s foremost composers, WPCS aims to provide something to excite and engage each and every audience member.

Mark Tomasino – Founder & Artistic Director Mark Tomasino is quickly emerging as an exciting young artist within the choral music community. Known both for his sensitive musicianship and original programming, he is passionate about creating a unique, enriching experience for every ensemble and audience member. Tomasino earned a B.A. in Music Composition from Illinois Wesleyan University, where he sang in three national choir tours, an international tour through Eastern Europe, and studied a semester at the Conservatorium van Amsterdam in the Netherlands.

Singers Soprano: Elizabeth Burchfield, Kate Cochran, Kathryn Colby, Melissa Curtis, Sharon DeCaro*, Lesley Hoerner, Stephanie Malmquist, Claire Maude (CM), Viktoria Rill, Jamie Simone, Lily Wirth Alto: Erin Crawley (EC), Sarah Homan, Caitlin Leman, Rachel Mikolajczyk, Kathryn Reihsmann, Lydia Lane Stout (LLS), Megan Thompson, Angela Tomasino, Joanna Tomassoni*, Helen Vasey Tenor: Brian Butler, Lyle Harlow, Anthony Hinrich, Tim Holbrook, Ben Mann, Jonathan Schildt (JS), Adam Schleinzer*, Mark Talsma, Carl Wasielewski Bass: Eric Brummitt, Edward F. Davis (ED), Joe DiMaria, Matthew Hanes, Ben Irey, Jonathan Levin, Andy LoDolce, Brian Prange (BP), Kyle Shiver-Simpson*, Brian Solem, Andrew Sudds

*Section Leader

FINAL CHAPTER: My Choir, Your Choir, Chicago's Choir: A History of Wicker Park Choral Singers, 2008 - 2012

I dropped my pencil.  “WHAT?” I shouted. “Yeah, she’s in charge of marketing the choir, for obvious reasons, and so when we were looking for a way to promote our next concert, she said she could handle it.  Said she could get a crack reporter on the story.  You in particular.  Whether you liked it or not.”

WHAT?

“Well, I guess she was right…” said Angela, slyly.

“You should probably ask for a raise,” Mark laughed.

“Oh, I’m going to ask for six kinds of raises,” I said, shoving my notebook and pencil into my bag with incredible force.  “Eight or twenty kinds of raises.”  I ripped the zipper across the top of my bag.  “Whether I liked it or not!?  How do you like that…”  I stuffed my hat back on my head.  “If you’ll excuse me…”

“Certainly,” said Mark, still giggling.  “We’re even for the mink, now,” Angela added.

I stormed out of the bar, hailed a cab, and went directly downtown.  I was still boiling mad when I got to Steph’s office.  “Malmquist!?” I bellowed, striding into her office.

“Oh, they told you my big secret, did they?”  She chewed the end of a cigar, looking unimpressed.

“How dare you angle me into an assignment!  Make me traipse all overChicagolike that.  You know I have murders to investigate!  I have social justice concerns to track, and judges to interview, and big scoops to write!”

“You done?”

“How the hell can you even still sing!?” I said, waving away the smoke with great dramatic flair.  “You must be a bass by now.”

“You know what a bass is?” she smirked.

“Ugh, I know what a bass is…” I collapsed into the chair in front of her desk.  “Yeah, I’m done now.”

“Well, let me remind you, first of all, that I’m your boss and I can make you cover whatever story I want.” I grimaced at her.  “And secondly, let me remind you that you fell for my angle, hook line and sinker. I hardly had to ask twice, and you were all about this story.”

“Well, that’s…” I started.

“And, third,” she barreled over me.  “Let me remind you that you asked for a raise, and I’m going to give you one.”

“It better be gigantic.” I groused.

“It’s a raise.  You want me to take it away from you?  Then, take it and like it.”  She drove her finger down into the desktop for emphasis, and then relaxed back into her chair, looking a bit uncomfortable.  “And one last thing.  And I’m only going to say this once, so you better listen up good.”

“What?” I said, dripping sarcasm.  “You want me to go back to the circus and interview the ringmaster?”

“No.  Shut up.  I want to say…thank you.”  My mouth dropped open.  “Yeah, I said it.  This choir is really important to me, and it deserves to have its day in the sun.  It’s really important to all of us in the choir, so, yeah…like I said before.”

“You really are only going to say ‘thank you’ once, aren’t you.”

“It’s physically difficult for me to form the words,” she said, tapping her throat.  “Also, take a look at this.  Promotional poster for the radio series.”  She slid a glossy over the desk toward me.

“It Takes a Village,” I read.  “This your next concert theme, too?”

“Yeah, you know, kind of a reflection on the whole choir community—singers, director, volunteers, audience.”

“I get it,” I said, with a nod.  “I truly get it.”  I directed a smile at Steph for probably the first time in our working relationship.  “I like it a lot.”  I flipped out my pocket calendar.  “I’ll be there.”

“Oh, well, don’t come on my account.”

“Yeah, I’m not.”  I deadpanned.

“Get out of my office,Crawley.”  She stuck the cigar back in her mouth.  “Go investigate those murders or something.”

“Sure thing boss.” I gave her a mock salute at the door and went my merry way.

PART TEN: My Choir, Your Choir, Chicago's Choir: A History of Wicker Park Choral Singers, 2008 - 2012

“So that’s what you really like about your project, then?”  I asked.  “That you get to give back?  Engage people?” “Yeah, that’s definitely part of it,” Mark mused.  “But, you know, I also enjoy that at some point, after a few seasons of honing the choir, of honing our musicianship, it was really no longer just my choir.  It became our choir.  And it’s even becoming Chicago’s choir.  It belongs to everyone, even the audience.”

“You’ll have to explain that one.  I mean, I understand that the audience can enjoy the music, that’s fine, but how does the choir belong to them?”

He leaned forward. Angela leaned forward, too.  I hesitated and then joined the conspiracy. “The thing is,” Mark said, “everyone is a choral music fan.  They just don’t know it yet.”

I shook my head and turned another page in my notebook.  “I don’t buy it.”

Mark held up a hand.  “See, every new person we bring into the fold, every person who hears choral music for the first time, or chooses to support the choir, or even just learns something new about how music can sound…they get to hold and cherish and own that moment where we helped them expand their horizons, or where they supported us so we could expand ours.”

I was still suspicious.  “Can you prove it?  Have you seen this ‘ownership’ in action?”

“I’m glad you asked,” Angela said, rising to the challenge.  “Here’s your proof.”  She reached into her purse and pulled out a pamphlet, tossing it down on the table definitively.  “That’s the program for our ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ concert.”

I flipped it open, and scanned the first few pages as she talked it through.  “For starters, we took this concert right out to the public.  We partnered with Chris Jackson of the Jackson Junge Gallery to stage the event in a non-traditional location.  We hired an amazing caterer, Jason Shiver-Simpson of Stone Root Catering.  We sold tickets, we dressed up in our party best, we talked about art and music. I’m telling you, this was solid ritz.”

“Alright, I can believe that,” I nodded.

“And then the audience ownership,” she said.  “Well, we had a standard rep by then.  We had openers, closers, experimental music, fast and slow pieces.  And we decided to group pieces together by their type, three to a group, and sing little snippets of each piece to the audience as the night progressed.  Four rounds of snippet singing.”

“Why just snippets?  Why not sing the whole song.”

“Well, we wanted to create some mystery,” she shrugged a shoulder.  “And besides, if we sang the whole piece, then we would have just been telling the audience what to listen to.  No, this way, they got to decide which pieces intrigued them, and then vote on the piece they wanted to hear in its entirety.”

“Ohhh, so that’s how the audience…”

“Took ownership of the concert, yes,” finished Angela.  “They picked all the pieces they wanted to hear, and in the meantime, we walked around and mingled and talked about our choir and our music and asked them about their choices, and what about each piece had drawn them in.  And they came up with the most amazing things to say.  People immediately felt connected to the emotionality of a piece, or the pace of it, or the humor in it.  They were anticipatory.  They really, truly hoped they’d win the vote and get their piece on the program.  They owned their decisions.”

“Alright, well, that’s certifiably cool,” I said.  “You’ve convinced me.”

“I don’t think we can argue that the people at the concert were all brand new to choral music,” said Mark in reflection.  “But you know what?  We made you like the choir, didn’t we?”

I raised my eyebrows.  “Oh, well…I suppose in a way, that…”

“Admit it, you’re a choral music fan now.”

I scratched the back of my head.  “Well, I did like the recordings you gave me to listen to…and I did think the members I met were pretty interesting, so…”  I finally relented a smile.  “Yeah, I think I’m a choral music fan.”

Mark clapped his hands together in absolute triumph.  “I knew it!”

Angela’s mink let out a tiny hiccup and slid from the table, drunk as a skunk.  She sighed and picked the mink up off the floor, setting him around her shoulders.  His paws dangled down in blissful oblivion.  “You better be…” she said.

I cleared my throat.  “Well, I have more than enough for the radio installments, now.  The only thing left is to have you both in to the studio to do a bit of recorded interview…which I think…” I flipped open my pocket calendar.  “Yeah, I have you down here for next Tuesday.”

Angela looked at Mark, in cahoots about something or another.  “What…” I asked.  “Tuesday won’t work?”

“It’s not that.  Well, I have one last secret to share with you,” Angela said.  “It might surprise you.”

“After all this?  I doubt it.  But lay it on me.”

“Your boss, Stephanie Malmquist?”

“Yeah…” I said, growing wary.

“She’s in the choir.”

To Be Continued.....

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.

PART EIGHT: My Choir, Your Choir, Chicago's Choir: A History of Wicker Park Choral Singers, 2008 - 2012

My next visit was no less nerve-wracking.  It turned out that one of Chicago’s top lawyers moonlighted as a member of the choir.  I’d seen him before outside of the courthouse, but only from afar as I jostled with other reporters in the hopes of a statement.  And here I had a one on one audience.  I wondered momentarily if I could slip in a question about last week’s double homicide, but decided I should probably just stick to my script. I handed over my card to the clerk at the front desk and then headed upstairs under the escort of a guy who would give Mr. Magnificent a run for his money.  Another John at the door to the office plucked my notebook out of my hand and scanned my set of questions.  He nodded without expression and handed it back to me.  He pushed the door open.

Jon Schildt took one look at me, at my notebook and press badge, and spun his chair toward the window.  “No comment.”

I stopped in the middle of a gigantic Persian rug, shaded by a Swarovski chandelier.  “I’m here about the choir,” I said.

“Oh right.”  He swung the chair back toward me.  The lamps from the chandelier caught his suit and sent rays of light pin-wheeling away from his glittering houndstooth.  He pulled a gold pen out of his breast pocket and shoved a piece of paper across the desk.  “Sign that.”  He tossed the pen down.

“What’s this?”  No one had mentioned any contract when I called about the appointment.

“It’s a document stating that you will refer to me only by my alias so as to keep my dreadfully important work from being interrupted by silliness and nonsense and…reporters asking questions about my hobbies…”  He crossed his arms.  “I owed ‘The Gentleman’ a favor, or you wouldn’t even be here.”

I looked up from the contract in wide-eyed astonishment.  “You’re Billy Flynn?”

“Is it that hard to believe?”

“Yeah, ok, alright.”  I added my John Hancock to the contract and took a seat. Schildt seemed to relax a bit once he had my signature under lock and key, and headed over to his liquor cabinet for libations.

“So I have here that you joined at the very beginning of the third season of the choir,” I began the interview.

“I did.” He responded, measuring out the drinks.  “My first concert was ‘Star of Wonder’ performed on December 4th and 5th, 2010.  And then the following spring we sang a concert called ‘How Does Your Garden Grow?’  That was on the 9th and 10th of April.”  He brought our glasses over and set one before me.

“Pretty impressive, having all this stuff committed to memory.”  I noted.

“I had a clerk write it up for me.  I just memorized it, like any other self-respecting hotshot.”  He took a sip of scotch.  “Next you’re going to ask me about our ‘Assembling the Masses’ concert on July 9th and 10th of 2011, and ‘Eat Drink and Be Merry’ on December 10th and 11th, same year.”

“Alright, but those are just dates.  I’d like to see someone write out your opinion of these concerts.” I challenged.

“People write my opinions on things all the time.  I read them over breakfast.”  He looked smug.

“Well, I guess you can just give me those written opinions, and I’ll be on my way.”  I snapped my notebook shut.

“Oh, settle down, I’ll tell you something about choir, direct from me to you.”  I slowly opened my notebook, maybe looking a little smug myself.  “Please, I had this planned out from the get-go,” he read my expression. “You, dragging out my heart and soul.”

“That hard to find ‘em, eh?”

“Hilarious. No.  It’s just, you know, I can’t let it getting out that that grand piano over there isn’t just furniture.  I’m a music theory geek, you know that?  I accompany the choir sometimes.  Hell, I even enjoy it.”  He smiled at his piano like it was an old friend.

“So you do actually have fun, here?” I asked.

“Sure.  In fact, as a choir we had this one day of performances,” he sat up in his chair and leaned forward with glee. “So, we started at 7:30 AM singing a segment on the morning news, then we did a noon time concert at 4th Presbyterian on Michigan Avenue, then we caroled the same evening at Cloud Gate in Millennium Park, and THEN we had ourselves a choir Christmas party.  I had to do the whole thing incognito, of course, and it was completely crazy, but that was the most fun I’ve had in years.”

“Why don’t you want people to know that?”  I asked.  “Off the record.”

“Well, if it gets out how much I love an audience, people might start to think that I don’t practice law solely out of a genuine sense of human decency.”  He touched his hand to his heart, flashing a couple of rings.

“This is Waterford, right?”  I finished off my scotch and eyed the glass.

“I think we’re done here.”

 

To Be Continued......