As our nation remembers the 100th anniversary of the Armistice that brought an end to World War I, Heritage Chorale of Oak Park, under the direction of their new Artistic Director, Guillermo Muñoz Küster, is using this event as a departure point to inspire their fall concert this weekend.
“The focus is on music to portray a path of conflict, peace, resolution and ultimately remembrance,” Muñoz Küster said. “It’s not the only conflict in history. Experiences around the world and at different times are similar, and we look for peaceful resolution. Music can portray that experience.”
Nearly 50 singers make up the 34-year-old Heritage Chorale, based in Oak Park, but with singers from Oak Park, River Forest, Forest Park, Berwyn, LaGrange and surrounding areas. Its auditioned singers are “serious musicians,” according to Lillian Hohmann, who has sung with chorale for 25 years and is a former board member. Although some choir members are music teachers with degrees, there are also dentists, attorneys, doctors, business people and others who love to sing and have had significant voice training, she said.
“The actual music making is tremendously satisfying,” Hohmann said. “Singing choral music, you’re very aware of the harmony. It’s a metaphor for thinking and acting in harmony.”
“I love listening to the voices of the altos, tenors and basses,” said Hohmann, a first soprano. “It’s the effect of it all together — preferring to sing together, no one striving to be a soloist. The conductor will say, ‘Listen to each other. Sing in balance.'”
Balance is also important to Muñoz Küster as he selected composers for the program. He wanted a variety of musical styles and composers of different backgrounds.
“Wars don’t discriminate,” he said. “Conflicts affect everybody, so the composer line-up is reflective of that.”
Pablo Casals, the famed Spanish cellist, lived in exile during Franco’s fascist regime, according to Muñoz Küster. American composer Randall Thompson wrote “Peaceable Kingdom” inspired by the Edward Hicks painting of the same name. Leonard Bernstein’s “Haskiveinu” premiered at New York’s Park Avenue Synagogue in 1945 with an expanded synagogue choir. The 100th anniversary of Bernstein’s birth is currently being celebrated. There are also two works by female composers, U. Smith Moore and Eleanor Daley.
The evening concludes with the consolatory “Requiem” by Gabriel Faure.
“It’s an homage to those who have passed,” Muñoz Küster said. “The audience can reflect. Music is one of the most impactful artforms.”
Muñoz Küster, who spent his early years in Santiago, Chile, works full time with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra planning department as an artist coordinator, assisting the vice president with research for programs and a “wide range of other activities.” He is a classical guitarist and the director of adult choirs at Glenview Community Church. He lives in Chicago.
While Heritage Chorale has nearly 50 core members, it adds one student singer each spring through a scholarship program. High school juniors and seniors who live, go to school, or sing in Oak Park, River Forest or Forest Park can apply. The recipient receives $1,000 to use toward pursuing “music study in the vocal arts” and sings with Heritage chorale for a semester.
“It encourages young people to stay in [the vocal arts],” Hohmann said. “They’re one of us, singing with serious adults and making stunning music. We’ve had some spectacular kids.”
The chorus also welcomes new adult members, with auditions beginning again in January.
See Faure’s “Requiem,” Saturday, Nov. 17, 7:30 p.m., at Grace Episcopal Church, 924 Lake St., Oak Park, and Sunday, Nov. 18, 4 p.m., at Pilgrim Congregational Church, 460 Lake St., Oak Park. $21.50; $16.50, seniors; $11.50, college students; free, other students. Tickets/more: heritagechorale.com. Heritage Chorale Marcie Hartman Mentoring/Scholarship deadline Nov. 30.