This weekend, City Voices will be singing with Andrea Bocelli — on Saturday at Allstate Arena.
Founded in 2009, City Voices is an Oak Park-based amateur community chorus that is an outreach project of the professional a cappella group The Oriana Singers. Directed by Bill Chin, City Voices is a medium-sized chamber chorus of about 30 singers.
Each year, they perform four sets of concerts. The two constants are the holiday concert, Sing We Joyous, and joining the Symphony of Oak Park & River Forest Chorus. The other two programs are City Voices on their own or in collaboration with another group.
“It’s great because being in this one group, you get a small ensemble experience and you get the experience of being in a big symphonic chorus. Then you also do this wacky holiday thing,” said Chin.
On Friday, May 19, at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, May 21, at 4 p.m., City Voices will perform at First United Church of Oak Park, 848 Lake St. The concert, titled, “Musicians Wrestle Everywhere,” is a program of poetry set to music.
“We could do a program based on poetry every year for years and years and not exhaust the possibilities. There’s a lot of great music that’s been inspired by poetry,” said Chin.
The concert includes 10 pieces and begins with Elliott Carter’s setting of Emily Dickinson’s poem, “Musicians Wrestle Everywhere.”
“It’s the catchiest title ever, so of course we had to use it,” said Chin. In addition to the sung pieces, there will be people reciting the poetry as well.
“It will be a multi-sensory experience. I wanted to offer a mix of things. There are pieces that are old, like an excerpt from Four Saints in Three Acts, an opera by 20th-century American composer Virgil Thomson,” he said. The librettist for Thomson’s work is Gertrude Stein.
“She just liked the sounds of words. She didn’t really care if they meant anything. It’s random and really kind of cool. And because it’s Gertrude Stein, there are more than four saints and because it’s Virgil Thomson there are more than three acts,” Chin laughed.
“We’re also doing some more contemporary, things including Latvian composer Ēriks Ešenvald’s ‘Only In Sleep’ from the poem by Sara Teasdale. The first line reads, ‘Only in sleep I see their faces.’ She is writing about friends of hers from when she was a child. It’s nostalgic and is the most beautiful music ever,” said Chin, who loves performing at First United Church of Oak Park. “It’s a great space for music performances. There’s a bit of reverberation, but it’s pretty clean acoustically. It has room for sound to bloom. And of course, there are great instruments, including a Casavant pipe organ and a 9-foot Steinway grand piano. It’s also a large space that seats about 750 people. I’d be hard-pressed to think of many other venues in Oak Park that have that kind of capacity.”
On Saturday, May 20, at 8 p.m., City Voices will be performing at Allstate Arena with world-famous tenor Andrea Bocelli.
“Two years ago, I got a call to put together a 60-voice chorus to sing backup for him. It was a total ball and I was asked to do the same thing for his concert this year,” said Chin.
“Last time was an experience unlike any other that a typical choral singer is going to do. It’s so unique to play this arena with 8,000 people there. We often use the word ‘deafening’ in a casual way, but it really hurt your ears to hear everyone cheering. It was really something.”
Chin added that City Voices will be holding auditions later in the summer for anyone who is interested in singing with them.
“We are an amateur group that aspires to perform like professionals so we have high standards. I listen to people and make a judgment about what their potential is to sing at the level of everybody else. We’re interested in performing music that is interesting and challenging and in doing it well.”
Tickets for the Friday and Sunday concerts are available at www.cityvoiceschicago.org or at the door. The cost is $25 and children 18 and under are free. Tickets for Andrea Bocelli’s Saturday concert are available at www.ticketmaster.com. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to set up an audition with City Voices.