Holiday music is integral to the season. If singing brings you joy, Chicago a cappella concerts will cause your soul to soar above and beyond. This ensemble is magnificent; their vocal prowess reaches premier status. There is no instrumental accompaniment, hence the name signifying alla cappella singing. The only instrument is their ethereal voices, and they are angelic.
On the morning of November 30th, I was offered the fortunate opportunity to witness a rehearsal for the upcoming Hannukah Concerts at West Suburban Temple Har Zion. These singers are phenomenal. The sound is so clear. The delivery is passionate and spiritual. When I thought they had completed a perfectly finessed piece, the Artistic Director John William Trotter, with his ear for precision, would make a nuanced suggestion that improved the delivery substantially. A simple hold of the “n” for a warmer sound made a difference. Sometimes, he asked the performers to speed up the tempo and, at other times, to slow down the tempo. He always made sure to balance the sound. He was aware of the acoustics in the room and how the audience would perceive the music. With a jazzy Hannukah song, the ensemble added finger snaps that elevated the rendition of the song. This collaboration is what puts this ensemble in the top tier.
On December 7th, Chicago a cappella will perform Hanukkah a cappella a concert marking the first night of the Festival of Lights and the release of their new recording Miracle of Miracles: Music for Hanukkah on Cedille Records. The songs range from traditional to contemporary and even a funky Dreidel song. Some of the featured songs are “Maoz Tzur” by Robert Applebaum, “Al Hanisim” by Elliot Z. Levine, Hallel Cantata by Daniel Tunkel, and, of course, “Ikh Bin a Kleyner Dreidl” / Mikhl Gelbart, arranged by Mark Zuckerman. Miracle of Miracles: Music for Hanukkah will be performed at West Suburban Temple Har Zion, 1040 N. Harlem Avenue in River Forest, Illinois. December 8-17, the Holiday Concert will update classic Christmas favorites such as “Joy to the World” (we need that), “Deck the Hall” and my personal favorite “Silent Night.”
In February 2024 Chicago a cappella will launch a Cambridge series of concerts inspired by Artistic Director John William Trotter’s sabbatical at Cambridge University. Trotter expressed his excitement, saying, “After immersing myself in the glorious choral traditions of Cambridge, I’m thrilled to share these magnificent works with our audience through the exceptional voices of Chicago a cappella.” The different locales for this series are:
Saturday, February 17, 2024, 7:30 PM*
Grace Lutheran Church
7300 Division St.
River Forest, IL 60305
Sunday, February 18, 2024, 4:00 PM*
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church
939 Hinman Ave.
Evanston, IL 60202
Saturday, February 24, 2024, 7:30 PM
St. Michael Catholic Church
310 S. Wheaton Ave.
Wheaton, IL 60187
Sunday, February 25, 2024, 3:00 PM
St. Josaphat Church
2311 N. Southport Ave.
Chicago, IL 60614
Thirty years ago, in 1993, Jonathan Miller, a professional singer who came up through the Chicago Children’s Choir in Hyde Park, saw the wisdom of founding an ensemble that “advances the art and appreciation of ensemble singing.” At a singing gig, he had just met Matt Greenberg, Executive Director and founding member of Chicago a cappella. He offered him a ride home. The significance of that ride was profound. Miller shared his dream with Greenberg. He envisioned an ensemble of nine professional singers at the pinnacle of their careers who could sing various songs in many different languages with verve and excitement. Greenberg was all in and became a founding member of this ensemble. Choirs and ensembles differ from each other both by size and purpose. Choirs generally have music written specifically for them, often religious music. An ensemble is a small group of separate individuals who contribute to a coordinated whole sound. Chicago a cappella is a professional ensemble group of ten singers with exquisite voices, alluring personalities, and the versatility to perform a wide range of diverse musical styles with aplomb.
It is now not just an ensemble but has morphed into a non-profit organization for Community Outreach. They partnered with Minneapolis to create a program ¡Cantaré! Chicago, where Mexican composers visit and teach in Chicago classrooms. Chicago a cappella also focuses on HerVoice, the brainchild of Trotter, to enlist and encourage aspiring female composers. They conduct various other master classes and workshops.
They cite their repertoire as traditional to contemporary, Gregorian chants to the Beatles and beyond. They also champion new music from among current composers like Joseph Jennings, Chen Yi, Stacey Garrop, Tania Leon, Ezequiel Viñao, and Rollo Dilworth, who draws his inspiration from African-American Gospel and Spiritual composers. Another emerging artist, Grace Brigham, is lending her winning composition to the Cambridge line-up titled “Sundowning,” inspired by her experience caring for a grandparent battling Alzheimer’s Disease. I hope you will receive the gifts these blessed, talented individuals share with us. For more information, please contact Chicago a cappella online.
Photos: Courtesy of Chicago a capella and Kurman Communications, LLC