Chicago has a number of community choirs – I’ve written before about experiences with a couple of them over the years, most of which are organized for and by people who just love to sing; many take up donations for some charity or another. Last night I had the pleasure of attending a performance of the Chicago Community Chorus, with Artistic Director/Founder Dr. Keith Hampton at the helm.
There was a lot going on – too much, in fact. In addition to the Chicago Community Chorus, another of Chicago’s community choirs was onstage as special guest performers – Dainava, billed as, “The oldest surviving Lithuanian choir on the North American continent.” Dainava began in the 1940s as Lithuanians fled the war in Europe. Friends recruited folks coming to this country to join a choir – people actually moved to Chicago expressly for the purpose of the choir, according to the choir’s conductor, the young and charismatic Darius Polakaitis.
There was a wide variety of extremely diverse talent on stage. In addition to the Community Chorus’s own performances and those of the guest choir Dainava, the performance also honored two folks for their legacies. One was Renee Baker, an exceptionally accomplished musician who works in experimental composition – her piece last night wove together influences as diverse as 20th century atonal compositions, spoken word, and a string quintet. Imaginative and monumental, her work is first-rate and musically important.
The second honoree was local favorite, Pastor Mitty Collier, whose more traditional gospel tunes were the crowd pleasers of the night – her performance was indeed my partner Michael’s favorite. She sang an original tune centered on Noah’s flood and the rainbow, as well as another composition. Her pastoral gifts were on display as her style and words resonated deeply with the concert attendees, most of whom sit in pews quite regularly.
The Community Chorus itself houses a lot of talent – the soloists were great, and the instrumentalists brought a lot of musical interest to the stage. Overall, the atmosphere was one of caring and sharing – inclusively casual, but with a bow tie. It was a treat to be a part of the evening. This choir really “loves to sing,” as Dr. Hampton kept re-iterating. The Lithuanian choir was also mesmerizing – a truly talented ensemble.
The show started at 7 pm – we did not heed the warnings of the woman who invited us to attend, an old co-worker of Michael’s who suggested that we might arrive ½ hour late due to the show’s length (in my world it’s rude to show up late to a concert!). So at 9 pm, with about half of the numbers listed in the program completed, two hours in, we decided to head out.
I need to mention the venue – First Baptist Congregational Church just west of downtown Chicago. What a special structure – the dark wood accents, the towering auditorium, its stained glass, the unique arrangement of the stage and the monumental pipes from the sanctuary’s old organ all come together to create a marvel of a room. I’ve known of this church for a long time, and it was wonderful to get to see it – just being in the building would have made the evening worthwhile.
Add to the venue the contagious joy of the the music of the Black church and the haunting folk musicality of the Lithuanians and the evening provided a diverse musical treat. Though we’d seen two hours of the show and had definitely gotten our money’s worth, I was slightly conflicted about leaving before the big audience participation chorus, “Swing Down Chariot.” Next time.
Thanks for reading.