While Symphony Center, home to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (CSO), is closed to audiences due to the pandemic, the CSO has not remained quiet. They launched CSOTV to get their music out and have included outreach to children with CSO for Kids. This venture features “fun and engaging videos (that) bring music to life through the exploration of contemporary children’s literature,” according to their website.
The most recent offering by CSO for Kids is a performance by Oak Park children’s musician and author Jim Gill, performing from his book May There Always be Sunshine. While he begins performing with his banjo, the music portion is soon taken on by five CSO members playing their trumpets, a French horn, a trombone and tuba. Chicago Symphony Chorus soprano Melinda Alberty joins in singing with Gill.
After the singers share what the children wish for, accompanied by illustrations, the musicians share what they wish for too. Then, young listeners are invited to send in drawings of what they wish for, followed by a brief treat of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition by the brass musicians.
This is the 20th anniversary of Gill publishing his book., May There Always Be Sunshine.
“I always viewed the book as a perpetual ‘starting point’ rather than a finished product,” Gill said. “The introduction to the book mentions that I hope that folks will carry out book-making projects with children based on the song, perhaps inspired by my book. And, over the years, lots of teachers and librarians and family members have used my book and, of course, the song, as the starting point for creating their own May There Always Be books.
Gill received copies of drawings and books over the years. But, when the pandemic hit and in-person, hands-on activities halted, things changed.
“Last spring, my wife, Sue, after a month of lockdown, had the idea that we could ask children from across the country to send us digital images of the pages that they create and that we could make video books,” Gill said.
They received pages from Delaware to California and even one from Canada and had enough to create nine video books in May 2020 (viewable at: youtube.com/user/jimgillmusicplay/videos). Sue Gill does the video editing.
Those videos were noticed by Jon Weber, director of school and family programs, The Negaunee Music Institute at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, who then invited Gill to take part in CSO for Kids. Besides connecting music with literature, CSO for Kids has a component related to children’s social and emotional development and well-being, Gill said.
Gill believes the CSO accomplished their mission with this project as libraries, schools and families across the country are viewing the video with children.
“I have received emails and Facebook messages letting me know that not only has it inspired folks to start book-making projects with the children that they are working with and caring for, it has also simply made folks smile,” he said.
Gill said the song and video are flexible across ages, backgrounds and ability levels.
While in the video, it appears he may be on stage with others, he strummed his banjo and sang alone for his first appearance on Symphony Center’s stage, and it was through editing that it looked like he interacted with Alberty. The efforts were to keep everyone as safe as possible. Having May There Always Be Sunshine adapted for CSO musicians was a new experience too.
“The fact that the CSO created a special arrangement of the song for a brass quintet adds a level of sophistication to the song that isn’t there when I strum it on my banjo,” Gill said. “But I am honored that the director insisted that I strum and sing the song in my own simple way as part of the video. So in addition to being relevant across the ages, the song is also relevant across musical styles as well.”
Gill is continuing to work with the CSO. Last week he led a Zoom workshop with them, their partners and volunteers, so they can “start the process of book making projects” that connect Chicago Public School children and seniors in their communities.
To view CSO for Kids May There Always Be Sunshine video, go to: https://cso.org/csotv/cso-for-kids/may-there-always-be-sunshine/https://cso.org/csotv/cso-for-kids/may-there-always-be-sunshine/.
More on Jim Gill: jimgill.com