“I do not agree with Thomas Wolfe… about anything. You can go home again as long as you don’t expect home to be what it was when you left it. Or you don’t expect yourself to be what you were when you left home.” Raymond Burr
Beginning this week and throughout February, I will be writing about my own experience as a member of the Alumni Chorus of the Chicago College of Performing Arts of Roosevelt University. I’ve been asked to join them before, but the timing never seemed right. This time is different; I’ve rearranged a few things for rehearsals because I believe in the power of this repertoire and want to be involved. I am excited to be part of a semi-staged performance of a new oratorio, “Considering Matthew Shepherd,” by Craig Hella Johnson, about the last few hours of Matthew’s short life and what we can all learn from his tragic death. The Alumni Chorus will join the Conservatory Choruses for the last movement in what is sure to be a moving experience for all. I am so proud of CCPA for performing this moving work and honored to be allowed to participate, even in a small way. I thank Dr. Cheryl Frazes Hill for asking us to participate. Rehearsals begin next week and I look forward to them.
I am not surprised by the choice of this repertoire. Roosevelt University has a long history of involvement in social justice issues, even back in my day. It did not matter what college of the university you were attending, we were encouraged to be aware, in our city and in our country, to those struggling and to have compassion. We were taught to be socially aware before it was trendy, before it was a hashtag, by example and by the matter-of-fact way of leading by faculty and others. At that time, we did what we knew was right, perhaps sheepishly or covertly, but we did what was right.
I am who I am because of Roosevelt University. The music school was called “Chicago Musical College” (or CMC) when I attended and was a place of kindness while also stressing musical excellence. There was rarely a teacher or director who was mean, just to be mean. If they were stern or seemed severe, it was because they wanted you to get it, to master it, to understand the technique or perhaps, look at something another way. Those who were talented or gifted excelled. Those with only a modicum of talent became better musicians and we all became better people.
Many of my friends from those days have carried the lessons we learned with them into the rest of their lives. A fellow Alumnus has coat or food drives as part of his concerts and another’s choir serves dinner at a homeless shelter regularly. One friend raises money for medical research by giving recitals and another friend visits nursing homes once a month with a guitar. My Choral Ethics project is directly influenced by my time at Roosevelt. And if I am to be totally honest, my mentoring of choruses for adults with special needs is probably because of RU as well. Interestingly, another Alumnus is the director of one of those choruses!
I am excited to be able to make music in the place of my beginnings; as an adult and a musician. Singing with other Alumni, and with current students, is something I am looking forward to. We will be bridging the generations of CCPA, creating and singing something important, together, and I can’t wait!