When I entered Illinois Wesleyan University in 2003, it was not as a history major. In fact, in a moment of well-meant, but probably miscalculated zeal, I had switched my focus to Vocal Performance as I applied to college as a teenager.
I mean, this was not entirely out of the blue. I had been taking voice lessons since I was twelve, and I had a number of moderate musical accomplishments under my belt, but the idea of professional music was new territory for me. I remember arriving at Illinois Wesleyan for my audition. I sort of vaguely remember singing? And then I remember nothing until the next morning because I basically passed out in the van on the ride home and slept off the stress for about fifteen hours.
This probably should have been a wake-up call, in retrospect.
Turns out my introspective and introverted personality didn’t quite mesh with the bombastic expectations of solo life. I loved the poetry of arias, but not the presentation. I loved the history of opera, more than I saw it in my future. And as my confidence waned, so did my ability to sight-read, learn musical theory, and trust my voice in professional gigs. I did complete a full B.M. in Vocal Performance, out of stubborn determination.
What never once wavered, though, in my musical career at Wesleyan was my commitment to Collegiate Choir.
Through all the ups and downs of my musical career, it was my choral experience that really made me feel like a true musician. I loved being connected to all the voices around me, knowing that together we were telling some seriously amazing stories. And I felt safe in the collaborative atmosphere that choir demands. Sure, we all had our vibrant, individual personalities outside of performance—choir probably did more to bring me carefully and slowly out of my shell than any other experience. But in the moment, in the performance, there was an unspoken understanding of the necessity of collective subjugation to the task at hand. To the music. We were all part of one amazing, supportive whole.
I met some of my best and life-long friends in choir.
I never felt lost when I was in choir.
And I also established what would be my first lasting, adult mentorship in choir.
I had never interviewed for a job before, and I was expected to find a work-study position in my major field within two weeks of the semester open, or else work in the cafeteria. So, when the director of the choir asked if anyone would like to work for him, and all the experienced choristers just laughed, I missed the meaning of the chortles, flew to his office after rehearsal, and begged for the job. He handed me a piece of music, his copy code, and promised me keys at some point in the undetermined future. I didn’t even know where the copier was.
This also should have been a wake-up call, in retrospect.
But I am so glad I didn’t back down. About four years, a thousand post-its, five dead spiders, tons of overtime, impromptu babysitting, and one sinus infection from sorting dusty scores later…I knew more about myself as an employee, a person, and a musician than I could have possibly imagined. I learned hundreds of things from Dr. Ferguson, by his eccentric, academic, musically passionate example. Working in the choir department was a coming of age.
So, with everything that I learned from choir, all the amazing relationships it helped me foster, all the moments for growth it contained, it was common sense for me to join a choir once I moved up to Chicago. And I already had one in mind—The Wicker Park Choral Singers, founded by a fellow Illinois Wesleyan alumnus who also had a soft spot in his heart for his college choir experience.
I had rekindled my interest in voice lessons in Charleston, IL where I did my MA, just doing no-pressure, every-other-week lessons that helped me to learn about my voice and my skill set. But I was still terrified on my audition day. Mark Tomasino, the director, might as well have been a stranger, not a guy I went on three Co-Choir tours with. And I fretted over the proper audition attire, tossed and turned sleeplessly the night before, and made a friend go with me to the church for moral support.
All pretty much needlessly.
Because when I finally got there and started singing, the music just came pouring out of me, as it generally does when choir is involved. I felt relieved by the audition in the end, and when I got my acceptance email from the general manager, (my college roommate, Angela Tomasino neé Latkowski…yeah, choir even helps people get married) I thought to myself, I have arrived. I am finally in my musical home, and my musical home is choir.
I felt amazing.
And I still do. I am lucky to be starting my third year with WPCS. I’ve had to miss a spring and a summer season because of academic commitments that conflicted with rehearsals and concerts, but the time I’ve been able to spend with the choir more than makes up for that. Choir gave me a place to go and be well when I was losing my grandparents. It gave my parents the opportunity to come hear me make music I loved again. It gives me a reprieve from constant academia, and it has expanded my friend base every season—in fact, one of my Chicago roommates was from the choir.
So, recently, I decided to start giving back to this amazing organization by performing the role of Choir Historian. I began researching the composers and texts of the pieces and giving brief, humorous talks at rehearsal to aid everyone in their interpretation of the piece based on its historical context. This sparked the interest of a couple of choir members, and now there is a whole team of us—once again, choir has been awesome and collaborative.
As you read through this website, then, don’t be surprised when a blurb about a composer pops up, if I wax candid/creative about the history of WPCS as an organization, or if I expound on the meaning of texts, the importance of word-painting, and the differences between classical and baroque conducting jobs. I promise to explain all the music terms as clearly as possible.
Because, for me, it’s less about showcasing terminology than it is about writing something that draws everyone in to an understanding of music. In the end music does not ask to be analyzed by each audience member for context, harmonic structure, or musical theory. It only asks to be regarded as beautiful.
So, thank you with all my heart to IWU Co-Choir, and now to WPCS, for letting me be a part of something so extraordinarily beautiful.