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

“What about the singers?” I asked.  “Can’t have a choir without singers, right?” “Certainly not,” Mark smiled, “but I’m actually just about worn out here.”

I glanced down at my pages of notes, figuring I’d scribbled enough for a first installment.  “Yeah, alright, we can go with this for now.”

Angela glanced at Mark and then slid a sheet of paper across the table to me.  “Since you seem like a decent sort of person…why don’t you ask some of our members about their experiences yourself?  Guard this with your life, honey.  Chat them up when you have the chance.  Get to know our operation.”  The mink crawled its way up her extended arm and lounged about her shoulders.

“Sure.  Sure thing.”  I tucked the sheet into my briefcase and stood as they left the table.

*   *   *   *   *

I started with Tim.  He was a business-type, in development, but worked at the opera house.  Seemed like a solid place to start, and he’d been in the choir from the first day of rehearsal.

“So, Mr. Holbrook, tell me about your experience with the choir.”

“Wait, what?  I thought you had an appointment to discuss an investment from WLS.  We have radio time.”

“It’s alright, I’m on the level.”

Tim looked warily to the side of his desk, adjusted a pile of notes, and then came back around to me.  “So he’s finally coming out with this project, eh?  About time.”

“Yeah?”  I wrote a note. “What do you mean, about time.”

“Well, we need to keep expanding our audience.  Singing for a lot of people makes it easier when your venue is…hot.  It was rough in that church over the summer, and Mark, well…”

“It’s alright,” I assured him again.  “He asked you to be honest.”

“Well, he was really passionate about his conducting, and we were all friends, see, but that only goes so far.  We ended up twiddling our thumbs once in a while.  Oh and he didn’t ask for music deposits.”

“Music deposits?”

“Yeah, you know, a couple bucks to make sure we don’t waltz off with the scores.”

“The scores?  Like the prize money?”

“You journalist types…” Tim rolled his eyes.  “The sheet music.  The paper copies of the songs we sing.”

“Fine fine.”

“Sorry, I’m just late to a meeting now.  One of our feathered up dancers blew her ankle in a dance hall and lost us a contract with Listerine.  They wash out the vice, you know, they don’t promote it.”

“One last question.  When was that first performance?”

Tim looked nostalgic for a second.  “It was on August 10, 2008.  Round about noon.  And you know, it was really solid in the end.  Really something.”

I stood and shook his hand.  “Thanks for you time.  Sorry about the dancer.”

“Me too.  Oh, and you might talk to Joan Cinquegrani next.  Gotta run.”

To Be Continued....

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

Mark started to answer his list of questions.  He wanted fulfillment out of life, obviously.  He wanted to be the musician he was capable of being.  He had choral music in his background, a few semesters of conducting classes, positive reinforcement from friends and family as to his musical ability.  And he knew that choir was the best of the art-form that he loved.  For him, choir was the pinnacle. So, he looked into graduate school for choral conducting.  He met all the application requirements sans one—two years of successful conducting experience…

So, then he looked into getting conducting experience.  Again, he met all the application requirements for conducting jobs sans one—he needed a master's degree in conducting…

Mark, being the earnest and forthright “Gentleman” that he is took those requirements at face value, rather than pushing and prodding employers and universities as to the shades of grey surrounding their application processes.  And it’s a good thing he did, because that earnestness led him smack dab to the realization that it was time.  It was time for his own choir.  And freedom.










Mark knew he had a ready and willing friend base he could call on for help.  He also had Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way tucked under his arm.  He finally felt unstuck.  He felt creative.  His mind-frame was right, his limitations were imaginary, and he was full of possibility.  He was so fired up that he only got to step nine of the book (but still recommends the whole thing, FYI).

*   *   *   *   *

“It was then that you met your arch nemesis, right?”  It was a dangerous question and I steeled myself for the possible backlash with a bit more liquid courage.

Mark stared at me for a good long second and then nodded.  “Yeah.  Yeah it was then.”  He picked at a knot in the table.  “Just call him J. Bentley in your article, there, OK?”

“That’s too obvious,” Angela remarked.  “Call him Jack B.”

“But you know, he pushed me.  He challenged me.  He told me I couldn't do this choir thing, and I did.  So, maybe I should thank him.  Send him some flowers in prison or something.”

“Put a file in ‘em?”  I ask.

“Nah, I don’t want to thank him that much.

*   *   *   *   *

So, I came to find out, that Mark started asking around for help.  And the funny thing was that everything magically fell into place—the way things often do when you work up the courage to ask about them for the first time.

The music, for instance:  A quick visit home to the alma mater, an outdated map to the choral music closet, and Mark emerged teeming with scores and covered with spiders.

The rehearsal space:  This was a doozy.  Mark was on a walk in his neighborhood thinking over this particular conundrum when he arrived at the intersection of Hoyne and LeMoyne.  There stood the 125 year old landmark that is Wicker Park Lutheran Church.  The sign out front had a website listed.  It was worth a shot.

That same evening Mark placed a call to Pastor Ruth, introducing himself as the conductor of the Wicker Park Choral Singers (conveniently glossing over the detail that his choir wasn't exactly an ensemble yet).  He explained the situation, and Pastor Ruth invited Mark into her home and chatted him up.  Five minutes of explaining his choir and Ruth had heard enough.  Of course he could use the church...for free.

Pastor Ruth passed away in early 2012.  But Mark—really all of us in Wicker Park Choral Singers—find it difficult to imagine our organization without the partnership of the church, facilitated by the lovely Ruth.  Her generosity was critical in getting the group off the ground.  Because of her and her church we have the privilege of sharing our love of choral music with each other.  Singing in her funeral services brought the gift full circle. Thank you, Pastor Ruth.

The performance venue:  Naturally, Mark looked for a performance venue within the Wicker Park community.  He opened conversation with Doug Wood, who oversees all the gardening that goes on in Wicker Park and helps to set the concerts in the park.  Mark initially thought that the Wicker Park Fieldhouse would be the only available rehearsal space, but with rehearsals covered, he extended his hopes as to the park as a place for performance.  He was not disappointed.  Wood suggested that the choir perform at the intermission of a programmed string quartet.

To be continued....