It is 5:30 on a rainy Wednesday evening in November. Music is spilling forth from the hallways of Hibbard Elementary School in Chicago’s Albany Park neighborhood. Groups of young musicians have taken over every corner of the school, from its cavernous auditorium to its dance studio and several classrooms in between. It is a fairly typical evening for students in the People’s Music School’s community program at Hibbard Elementary — after all, they spend 8 to 10 hours in rehearsal every week — but there is a special energy in the building this evening.
“Is that Yo-Yo Ma?” asks a young cellist, craning his neck toward the entrance of Hibbard’s gym.
“I just want to say,” responds Ma from the doorway, “that you all sound so fantastic.”
Yo-Yo Ma, who serves as the CSO’s Judson and Joyce Green Creative Consultant, is at Hibbard to help launch the Civic Orchestra’s third annual Bach Marathon, presented this year in partnership with the People’s Music School. Established during the 2014/15 season as a response to an artistic challenge issued by Yo-Yo Ma, the Bach Marathon has since become an annual celebration of music-making in Chicago communities.
Yo-Yo Ma is not the only special guest at Hibbard this evening. Members of the Civic Orchestra of Chicago are also at the school; after sitting down to share pizza with the People’s Music School students, they divide into small groups and begin rehearsing the music of J.S. Bach in the same classrooms used by the students just a few minutes earlier. They are preparing for the day of the marathon, Nov. 30, when they will perform Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos at community venues all across the city, culminating in a formal performance of all six works at Fourth Presbyterian Church in downtown Chicago.
Since its first edition in 2014, the marathon has evolved significantly. The 2015-16 season’s marathon was presented in partnership with the Rebuild Foundation, an organization devoted to the revitalization of public spaces in Chicago. This year’s marathon represents a natural next step for the project.
“The partnership with the People’s School is such a natural marriage,” says James Hall, manager of Community Programs and Civic Orchestra Engagement at the Negaunee Music Institute. “The People’s School is built upon the ideal of bringing music education to children and families in the city of Chicago who otherwise might not have access to it. The Civic Orchestra is, in a way, something of an orchestra for the people; it’s been offering free performances all over the city of Chicago for nearly 100 years.”
It is a collaboration that will prove to be equally meaningful for the Civic Orchestra musicians as well as the students at the People’s School. “The Bach Marathon has become one of Civic musicians’ favorite projects,” says Molly Walker, manager of the Civic Orchestra. “It forms powerful bonds among the players. Their preparation in smaller groups allows them to get to know each other outside the large orchestral setting, and this closeness then translates into exciting performances that make both the musicians and audiences feel energized and uplifted. Enduring a long day of multiple performances in different parts of the city, they come away with a sense of rejuvenation and excitement about what they’ve accomplished together personally and musically.”
Violist Davis King, a former Civic Fellow, points that “for many of the musicians of the Civic, the Bach Marathon is their first taste of what it’s like to design and curate their own concert experience. With the guidance of Yo-Yo Ma, the result is empowering musically, professionally, and personally.”
The Bach Marathon begins on the morning of Nov. 30 with performances at Hibbard Elementary School and Lara Academy in the Albany Park and Back of the Yards neighborhoods, respectively. At noon, ensembles from the Civic Orchestra will perform all six Brandenburg Concertos at the Christkindlmarket in Daley Plaza. From 2 to 5:45 p.m., ensembles from the Civic Orchestra will travel across the city to bring the music of J.S. Bach to several community venues, including Albany Park Multicultural Academy, the Southshore Fine Arts School, the People’s Music School’s Uptown Academy and Apostolic Church of God.
At p.m., Civic Orchestra ensembles reconvene to conclude the marathon with a formal concert at Fourth Presbyterian Church in downtown Chicago.
For more information about Bach Marathon, click here.