With so many holiday activities in the Chicago area, how do people choose with only a few free weekends before Christmas Day? The producers of Sing We Joyous! have a solution — their performance appeals to all ages, from the smallest tot to the tallest teen to the fun-loving grandparent and everyone in between.
"It's starting to become this holiday tradition — the whole family comes … and they'll bring friends and they'll bring their family," said Beth Albrecht, stage director for Sing We Joyous! "People are coming back every year because it is so different every year."
Started 12 years ago by Bill Chin, the Sing We Joyous! Christmas show brings together three choruses, a small orchestra, special effects, and special guests in a musical performance during the first half and more of a theatrical program filled with staged light-hearted fare during the second half.
"I thought we could put on a high-quality musical performance and make it fun and appealing to a broad audience," said Chin, who lives in Oak Park and is director of music ministries at First United of Oak Park. "There are a lot of people out there who do a traditional concert — it's lovely music and it's performed in a lovely way — but I wanted to do something where we could have a little bit of fun."
Performing are three groups that Chin is at the center of — Pro Musica Youth Chorus, for which he is the artistic director; City Voices, for which he is founder (2003) and artistic director; and he serves as artistic director and sings as a baritone with the Oriana Singers of Chicago, which he founded in 1979. The audience is invited to sing along throughout the show with the choral groups.
The show has grown since the early years when it was more of a concert, adding a second performance date in 2015 to accommodate a growing audience. Two years prior to that, Albrecht, who has theater experience, was brought on to help manage the expanded show. She is also married to Chin.
"One of the things we have done since the beginning is have an arrangement of the 'Twelve Days of Christmas' and make it intriguing, not just a simple run-through of the song, but have things happen in it," Chin explained. One featured iconic Christmas activities like seeing the "Nutcracker" and "A Christmas Carol." Another version used John Williams' music, ala Star Wars and Indiana Jones.
This year's composition is still under wraps, but Chin divulged, "a lot of things go wrong" and is titled, "The Twelve Days of Misfortune."
Also part of the performance is The Sing We Joyous Orchestra, which was added seven years ago, led by Julian Chin, composer, jazz pianist, conductor and Bill's son. He composed the "Twelve Days" arrangement for this year's show. The orchestra is made up of piano, bass, drums and violins.
Other instrumentalists appearing are the Oak Park and River Forest High School Marching Huskies drumline. An audience favorite, according to Albrecht, the drummers organize on their own.
Adding to the ambiance is Music at First committee member and co-founder of Chicago's Big Monster Toys, John Zaruba. According to Albrecht, Zaruba will build just about anything they ask to add magic to the show. In the past, he's built a time machine, a working catapult and a snow machine that will be employed again this weekend.
The grand finale has everyone together on stage, youngest singers to oldest adults. From putting together costumes to singing that last song together on stage, Albrecht, Oak Park resident and also a singer in City Voices, said, "It feels like the whole community is involved."
See Sing We Joyous! on Saturday, Dec. 8, 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, Dec. 9, 4 p.m., at First United Church, 848 Lake St., Oak Park. Saturday party/silent auction at 6:30 p.m. precedes the concert. $25; free, ages 18 and under. Tickets: singwejoyous.brownpapertickets.com.
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