PART TWO: My Choir, Your Choir, Chicago's Choir: A History of Wicker Park Choral Singers, 2008 - 2012
So that’s how I ended up waiting in a dive on one late and drizzling evening. It was my first meeting with “The Gentleman.” I was nervous.
I checked my timepiece right as Mark strolled into the pub and shook the water off the brim of his fedora, lamenting with a sigh the state of his spats. Angela “The Lady” Tomasino followed him through the door with a mink, because it’s Chicago and that’s what people wear in Chicago. They wound their way through the smoke and stares, making their way to my table at the back of the pub. I straightened up a bit at their approach, thinking that I maybe should have rolled down my sleeves to look a bit more presentable. But people seemed to expect the rolled up sleeves, pipe-smoking look from reporter-historians in this town. The pair smoothly sat down before me, and I flipped open my notebook after shaking hands with Mark. Angela’s mink crawled down off her shoulders—she saves animals rather than killing them—and started to lap up some water out of her glass.
“So…what do you want to know…” asked Mark with a small sense of trepidation, but a little bit of giddy on the side. It’s about time his story got out…you could see it in his face.
“Probably best to start at the beginning,” I suggest.
He nods and leans back in his chair thoughtfully. “The year was 2006…
* * * * *
Mark had just graduated from Illinois Wesleyan University, a lovely little liberal arts college complete with outdoor arboretum, defunct chapel bell, and secret passages in most pre-1950 buildings. While he was there, he had the joy of participating in the Illinois Wesleyan Collegiate Choir, under the direction of the illustrious, mystical, and yet somehow personable and warm, Dr. J. Scott Ferguson. Thinking about his time at Wesleyan—his time with the Ferg and friends—left a bit of a hole in Mark’s musical heart. He missed it all.
Over coffee with a few other graduates who had made their way back up toChicago, Mark tested the waters and discovered that he was not the only one who missed Co-Choir time. Dennis Brier admitted that he straight up cried himself to sleep over it. Or rather, he suggested, the first to ever do so, that Mark should perhaps start his own choir. If there was so much shared passion for choral music, and so much nostalgia floating about, then it was about time that someone stood up and harnessed the former to eliminate so much of the latter. Mark thought that was a damn fine idea. And then he sat on it for over a year.
Choirs don’t start easily, you see.
It’s one thing to look back four or five or seven or eight years down the road at a project you’ve started and all its successes, and think, “I did a good thing.” And it’s entirely another to turn your project into a start-up reality when all you’ve got is a bit of experience with month-long conducting/composition workshops and the hope that you can do a good thing…eventually…when you maybe make it happen. And Mark was stuck in the maybes and the wishes until round about 2007.
In the parting blows of a quarter-life crisis, Mark was left with a shaky foundation. He asked all those questions that most of us who are early 20-some-odd musicians ask ourselves. What am I going to do with my life? Am I going to work? Or maybe extended my education? What is my relationship with music? And what exactly does happen at the end of Inception?
“What?” I look up at Angela. She lights a cigarette with calm and austerity and plants it in the end of a holder.
“You don’t know that, though,” Mark gives her the side-eye.
She blows a thin stream of smoke over his shoulder. “Sure I do.”
“You know, I heard a joke that all altos are just sopranos who smoke and drink too much,” I interject.
Angela raises an eyebrow.
“So about that quarter-life crisis?”
To Be Continued.....