Do you remember back around the holidays the You-Tube video that was making the rounds? It was a seemingly spontaneous – though obviously planned – performance of Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus by a chorus at a shopping mall. In case you missed it, here it is:
WELL!! Yo-Yo Ma, now “Creative Consultant” with the CSO, staged something similar at The Millenium Park Station this past Saturday. The Chicago Tribune reports:
From the stage to the streets
Yo-Yo Ma and a kids choir take over a train station, and the Citizen Musician movement is launched
January 30, 2011|By Mark Caro, Tribune reporter
An unusually large number of teens were milling about Metra’s Millennium Station before noon Saturday when one of them started singing the old spiritual “Run Children Run” and was joined by another. And another. And another.
Soon 85 members of the Chicago Children’s Choir were in full voice, performing a South African chant, a Cuban folk song and a classical a cappella tune while seizing the surprised attention of passersby, retail workers and uniformed officers. When Yo-Yo Ma strolled out from the adjacent Starbucks and into the crowd with cello in hand, someone in the audience gasped, “Oh, my goodness!”
The iconic musician promptly corralled the onlookers to stand among the singers to perform the Latin canon “Dona Nobis Pacem” with his accompaniment. The audience and performers had become one.
The folks behind the new Chicago Symphony Orchestra-led Citizen Musician initiative would love for this happening to be a microcosm for how their movement plays out across Chicago and beyond, starting with a core of musicians and spreading in a way that’s planned yet spontaneous, until it envelopes anyone who has any contact with or appreciation of music.
Which, in theory, is just about everyone.
“All of you are Citizen Musicians,” CSO Association President Deborah Rutter told an overflow crowd at the Chicago Cultural Center’s Preston Bradley Hall Saturday afternoon at the official Citizen Musician curtain-raiser, soon adding: “We consider you our foot soldiers in the movement.”
Citizen Musician is the CSO’s and its Institute for Learning, Access and Training’s response to the call of CSO music director Riccardo Muti for the orchestra to get out into the community — “to go places we haven’t been before,” as Rutter put it. Numerous Chicago-area music institutions have since boarded this bandwagon, with the driver’s seat occupied by a musician known as much for his ambassadorship as his virtuosity: Ma, who joined the CSO a year ago as its first Judson and Joyce Green Creative Consultant.
Before their joint appearance at the Cultural Center, Ma, pianist Emanuel Ax and clarinetist (and South Side native) Anthony McGill spent the morning putting Citizen Musician to action. Ax dropped in on a kids piano class taught at DePaul University. McGill visited Woodlawn’s Parkway Community House, where kids who had been playing basketball were treated to a talk and performance (“I let them know that I came from where they are,” he said later), before he played Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” at the Chicago Public Schools’ All-City Ensembles rehearsal at the Maria Saucedo Scholastic Academy.
Ma’s day began at Children’s Memorial Hospital, where he and two teaching members of the Chicago Symphony Chorus, Elizabeth Gray and Sarah Ponder, engaged a sky-lit, brightly colored room full of patients and parents, plus anyone in the hospital watching the live broadcast of hospital chaplain Jim Manzardo’s show, “Morning Jam With Jim.”
All three guests made a point of approaching every kid in that room, Ponder and Gray coaxing them to sing and clap along to a heart-tugging “This Little Light of Mine” and “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” and Ma taking his cello up close to infant and teenager alike. When a girl named Maddie phoned in from her hospital bed to reveal that she plays cello too, Ma stuck his face right into the camera and had a one-on-one chat with her.
Later, while waiting in a car outside the underground Millennium Park train station entrance, the 55-year-old cellist stressed the unique power of live music performance to touch lives and to connect people and their imaginations. The Citizen Musician initiative, he said, is meant to reinforce music’s central role in our lives, particularly at a time when public funding of the arts is at risk.
“What we don’t want to lose is really the glue that holds people together,” Ma said.
With a black-and-gray scarf wrapped under his chin and a gray wool hat on his head, Ma entered the train station unnoticed and stood in a taco restaurant’s doorway watching the Chicago Children’s Choir’s flash-mob performance unfold.
“This is something that they’ll remember,” he smiled, referring to the singers. “This is so cool.”
The performance was having the desired impact on casual observers too. Louie Pavlovic, a Metra inspector, said he popped up to the lobby between train departures to be surprised by the sound of music. “They’ve got a whole choir singing and dancing and moving around,” he said. “It’s making the rest of my day pretty joyful.”
Soon Ma was out among the singers, prompting Police Sgt. Joe Cistaro to marvel, “I’ve seen him perform many times. Closest I’ve ever been.” When Ma and the choir finished their canon, Cistaro exclaimed, “Beautiful!”
The Cultural Center event was bookended by performances — Ma and members of the CSO and other ensembles opening with the Mendelssohn Octet’s first movement, and Ma, Ax, McGill and CSO concertmaster Robert Chen performing John Williams’ “Air and Simple Gifts” at the end — with Rutter leading the discussion in between. The musicians testified to how the act of sharing has sparked some of their most gratifying moments, and Ax spilled the beans on the CSO’s previously unannounced plans for a piano festival next year, Keys to the City.
Among those taking this in was Gov. Pat Quinn, who was sitting fairly far back and off to the side. “I like Yo-Yo Ma,” the governor said from his seat. “I like Citizen Musicians. I’m into movements. This is a great movement, a grassroots movement. It brings together young and old. It makes Illinois a strong state. We can do anything.”
Afterward, Quinn approached Ma in the kitchen/backstage area and told him the state should support this movement and establish a Citizen Musician Day.
“I want to help you,” the governor said, and the Citizen Musician circle grew a little wider.
I am excited by the synergy of what our new music director, Ricardo Muti, and Creative Consultant Yo-Yo Ma will accomplish together! It reminds me of the admonition by anthropologist Margaret Mead:
“A small group of thoughtful people could change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
Obama is our president, Bill Daley his new chief of staff, it looks like Rahm will be our new mayor. Perhaps the parochial days of Chicago are finally behind us and Chicago can finally take it’s rightful place on the world stage.