I’m on a tough oak bench in the principal’s office, and a stern, mustachioed Luxembourger stares me down.
He’s not budging.
Peter Reinberg, whose tinted visage commands the wall, looks from a portrait that’s hung there for ages to be the sort of deserving, if forgotten, civic leader who gets an elementary school named for him. A Chicago son of Préizerdauler immigrants, the florist and alderman (urbs in horto personified) went on to become a County Board president; during his tenure, he helped establish the Forest Preserve District of Cook County, which marks its centenary this year.
The 26th Ward’s “Rose and Carnation King,” Reinberg (1858-1921) won the mantle of Chicago’s most celebrated Luxembourger — by default, perhaps, befitting a small immigrant community of 2,500 families from a slim grand duchy a thousand miles square. On Oct. 21, the CSO visits the half-million residents still wedged at the juncture of France, Belgium and Germany, on the second stop of this 2014 European tour.
Near the junction of Irving, Cicero and Milwaukee, the florid lyricism of Reinberg’s legacy is lost to memory. “I believe there’s some sort of Reinberg school song, way back in the day,” says music teacher Kevin Karpa, who then confesses, “We don’t know it, we don’t sing it. It’s not in our credo.”
Much better luck for Igor Stravinsky’s Firebird, which the CSO is traversing in Europe. Karpa’s colleague Mary Haskins — Reinberg Elementary has two music teachers — takes full advantage of the CSO’s Orchestra Explorers curriculum, which brings the creativity of classical music to kindergarten through third-grade students.
“Ms. Haskins worked with her students last year with the Firebird exclusively,” Karpa says. Reading, illustrating, even making masks for plays — “the kids got a real kick out of that.” He appreciates that Orchestra Explorers “introduces kids to all the orchestra instruments, so when they get ready to go to a concert, they have a good knowledge of ‘hey, that’s the sting section,’ ‘they’re the woodwinds,’ ‘that’s the brass.’ It’s a great springboard to understand and appreciate the symphony.”
The school’s music room, stocked with drums and mallets, befits Karpa, a percussionist who likes the Percussion Scholarship Program, an educational effort begun by the CSO’s Patricia Dash and her Lyric Opera of Chicago counterpart Douglas Waddell. The program’s past concerts grabbed the Orchestra Hall spotlight, then shut it off. Karpa had 200 Reinberg students in the audience when all the lights were dimmed while Dash’s drummers were performing. “Of course that was a big thing just in itself, but with these light-up drumsticks following the pulse of the rhythms that they’re playing — it’s something that my students are always reminding me of when we’re doing their drumming activities.”
I asked Karpa whether a new school alma mater with lots of percussion might be in the works. “There’s definitely opportunity to do it,” he says. “One of our standards for our students is creating their own compositions. Using our founder’s name, doing some historical research to tie it in lyrically? I couldn’t see it being out of the picture.”
Start with red roses, white carnations and mallets glowing iridescent blue – your patriotic colors, Peter Reinberg.
Twirl that mustache and crack a smile.
Andrew Huckman is a Chicago-based lawyer and writer.
Next in the series: Geneva in Geneva.