Singing in the season of lights

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By Michelle Dybal

Contributing Reporter

Honeyed voices fill the choir room. Vocal students circulate in and out of the building as one choral group finishes (Primo Coro, composed of elementary-school students) the next group begins. With the holiday season approaching, singers are doing double and, for some, triple duty, rehearsing for the Winter Concert, Sing We Joyous! or Joffrey Ballet's The Nutcracker. They are students of Pro Musica Youth Chorus, based in Oak Park.

Luka Hill and Cara Wright, both fifth-graders at Longfellow and Pro Musica Canterini members, agree this choir gives them exceptional opportunities, like singing from the orchestra pit at the Auditorium Theatre, Chicago. A group of about 25 Pro Musica choir members will sing at two Dec. 22 presentations of The Nutcracker.

"We're very focused on the musical experience to train young singers," said Bill Chin, artistic director of Pro Musica for approximately 18 years, "and we provide different performance opportunities. It's the performance experience that make it complete."

Luka practices 30-60 minutes daily and is one of 14 Prelude Scholars in the nearly 90-singer group this year. The program started this spring to identify students who would benefit from joining the chorus and received 50 percent scholarships. Oak Park District 97 teachers responded and now Prelude Scholars in grades 5 through 9 are part of the mix.

Augie Sterritt, a Mann fifth-grader and Prelude Scholar who sings in Canterini, said being with kids like him who like to sing has taught him how to connect with others in a chorus.

Chin conducts Pro Musica Harmonia and A Cappella students, who are in middle school and high school.

"You have the opportunity of shaping their singing and sound," Chin said. "Kids will do as you ask them. They're flexible and capable of great heights and quality of singing."

All Pro Musica choirs will perform at the Winter Concert, inspired by a Maya Angelou poem, "Human Family." There will be music celebrating Christmas and Hanukkah, but also from different countries and cultures.

Canterini conductor Karen Wilberg and accompanist Linnea Erickson rehearsed with students last week. When it was time for "Sankta Lucia" Erickson showed the young singers a photo of her 10-year-old self, battery-operated candles ablaze atop her head in the Swedish tradition. Then it was all business, talking about how to perform the song, when to take breaths, and singing … in Swedish.

In mid-December, Sing We Joyous! takes center stage. This Christmas show includes other area singers and musicians. With a celestial theme, City Voices will perform "Stars" by Latvian composer Eriks Esenvalds on tuned wine glasses. There will be other star-themed songs and an audience sing-along, as well as the always-new and comedic rendition of "Twelve Days of Christmas."

Reflecting on his history with Pro Musica, Chin said, "Some [students] have gone through all our ensembles. I'm not sure what is better: to watch them grow and develop or, when they leave and come back, to see what they become and you hard a part of that."

Because of their desire to reach beyond the immediate area of Oak Park and River Forest, Pro Musica began working with the Maywood Fine Arts Association (MFAA) to start a choir this season, part of a "big outreach effort" to neighboring communities, according to Chin. The MFAA choir's first performance is Dec. 11. 

See Pro Musica's Winter Concert, Saturday, Dec. 7, from 2 to 3:30 p.m., First United Church, $10; $7, children. Tickets at the door. More: promusicayouthchorus.org, pmyouthchorus@gmail.com. Sing We Joyous!, Saturday, Dec. 14, from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m., and Sunday, Dec. 15, from 4 to 6 p.m., First United Church, 848 Lake St., Oak Park. $25; free, 8 and under. Tickets: singwejoyous2019.brownpapertickets.com or at the door. Maywood Fine Arts Association Winter Concert, call: 708-865-0301.

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