Chicago Community Chorus finds common ground in singing
By ADRIENNE SAMUELS GIBBS Staff Reporter December 5, 2013 3:12PM
The Chicago Community Choir under the direction of Dr. Keith Hampton, rehearse at the West Point Baptist Church in Chicago Monday evening 12-2-13. Kevin Tanaka/For Sun-Times Media.
When: 2 p.m. Saturday at St. Luke’s Lutheran Church, 2649 N. Francisco; 7 p.m. Dec. 14 at West Point Baptist Church, 3566 S. Cottage Grove
Tickets: $20 for adults, $10 for students, and children younger than 12 are free
Updated: April 14, 2014 4:47PM
The recent Northwestern grad with the pale skin and blond hair wanted to sing, so she Googled the words “community” and “choir” and found the Chicago Community Chorus. She was from Iowa and had just moved to West Rogers Park. She needed to find her new, more adult tribe. So she emailed the director and he told her to show up for an audition. And she did. But there really wasn’t an audition because anyone who shows up can join. Ability is irrelevant. The woman became a part of the choir that same day.
Months later, she sang Verdi’s “Requiem Mass” before an audience of hundreds. There was a standing ovation. The girl’s boyfriend was in the audience and he, a web-designing guitar player, was thunderstruck. Boyfriend joined the choir. Fast forward nearly a year. On Dec. 7 and 14, the two — and some 150 other singing friends — will perform Ralph Vaughan Williams’ storied “Fantasia on Christmas Carols” before another crowd of hundreds. This year, just as last year, they will most likely get a standing ovation.
Such is life in the Chicago Community Chorus, a choir of both misfits and marvels who, under the tutelage of founder, director and gospel composer Keith “Doc” Hampton, have created a community like no other in the Chicago area.
“It’s kind of cool the way [Hampton] does it,” says Sophie Taft, 23, the aforementioned Northwestern University music grad. (She’s now a teacher in Des Plaines.) “If you show up, you’re in and you just go from there. I took a chance, and I really had no idea what I was getting into. It turned out to be better than it thought it would be.”
Taft’s boyfriend, Peter Lehnaan, had zero vocal experience. Hampton took him in. Taught him. Now? The baritone is singing in French.
“ ‘Requiem’ impressed me and inspired me,” says Lehnaan, 24, haltingly. “[The choir] was easy to be a part of, you know? It’s also cool to be there with her.”
The choir is 11 years old. Hampton, who has too many awards and accolades to list here, dedicated himself to creating a singing group representative of Chicago’s diversity in age, race and socioeconomic status. He’s largely succeeded. The city’s Gleeks can rejoice.
No one “has” to be able to sing, yet there does seem to be a natural self-selection of those who can hold a note. The choir holds rehearsals both on the North Side, at a Lutheran church in Logan Square, and on the South Side, at a Baptist church in Bronzeville. Members range from 16 to 90, and every race is represented. Quite a few countries too.
“I enjoy the people,” says CCC associate director Brandon Brown, 29, a trained opera singer and also minister of music for Good Shepherd United Church of Christ near 57th and Prairie on the South Side. He shakes his curly locks and chuckles. “Plus the solos don’t hurt.”
Hampton comes up with annual themes based upon the birthdays or anniversaries of composers or their works. In addition to the “Fantasia” (which is a fun mish-mash of English Christmas carols), this year’s concert also will feature child-friendly songs, such as P.D.Q. Bach’s “Old King Kong,” which will be backed by, of all things, kazoos.
“The vision of the CCC is that everybody loves to sing,” says Hampton. “I always say to the singers, ‘If you have one note, I want that one note.’ ”