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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 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.....

Chorister of the Month - Rachel Mikolajczyk (Alto)

Every month we recognize one outstanding chorus member who has perfect attendance at rehearsals and goes above and beyond their call of duty to help the choir succeed.  The Chorister of the Month experiences extreme stardom, receives an awesome gift card, and copious amounts of high-fives. Today, we start with our October recipient.  After her being inundated by the choral paparazzi, we finally caught up with Rachel at a quiet cafe to get an inside scoop on her life. Rachel Mikolajczyk, Alto

October Chorister of the Month: Rachel Mikolajczyk

How long have you been a member of WPCS? I've been a member since our second concert back in 2008. It's been a fun three years!

What is your favorite WPCS memory so far? Actually my favorite memories are always the few seconds immediately after the final song of each concert. I love that moment because it hangs briefly in the ether between the glorious last note and the thunderous applause from the audience. No matter the outcome, I always end each concert with exhilaration and a giant smile.

What hobbies do you have outside of choir? I love to read, sing, dance and I’m obsessed with certain TV shows like The Wire, Mad Men, Big Love, etc.  I also enjoy making music with my husband who is an awesome guitarist.

If your life had a soundtrack what songs would be on it? “Dog Days are Over” by Florence & the Machine, “On My Own” from Les Miserables, “Anthems for a Seventeen Year Old Girl” by Broken Social Scene, “Across the Universe” by The Beatles, “Buildings” by Regina Spektor, “Yoshimi Battles Pink Robots” by The Flaming Lips, and “Mushaboom” by Feist. (To name just a few.)

What is your guilty listening pleasure? I absolutely love Kanye West! I can rap the entire Nicki Minaj verse to “Monster” and I actually did it in front of everyone at my wedding.

If the choir were to plan a flash mob, what location would you choose and why? Buckingham Fountain- It just seems like a perfect Broadway-style location for a surprise musical number.

You can hear Rachel in action at our December concerts and learn more about her and other choir members by visiting out Meet the Choir page!  Feel free to congratulate Rachel on her leadership and tell her  how awesome she is in the comment box below.