Back to Bach: Reflecting on November 6 – 19, 2018

The past few weeks have been full of educational and eye-opening experiences. Beginning with a masterclass led by famed Chicago Symphony Orchestra Concertmaster Robert Chen, Civic Orchestra musicians were given a chance to hear our violin colleagues play and to observe Mr. Chen’s ideas on phrasing, practicing, and performing. That same evening, the entire orchestra met to begin our preparation for the fifth annual Bach Marathon. This year, with the theme of Giving Back, we would soon be going across the city of Chicago, playing in assisted living communities and volunteering in food pantries.

Quick plug: Checkout this video made by my colleague Juan Olivares – it does a great job of demonstrating the mission of this season’s Bach Marathon! 

In this first Bach Marathon Planning session, we drank coffee while Professor Andrew Talle gave a lecture detailing his research on the music of J.S. Bach and that of Bach’s contemporaries – prompting us with questions of what makes the music of Bach unique, and why do we still play it today? Bach is a composer that musicians study their whole career, and so part of the answer seems to be that there is always something new to hear and discover, something new to consider in his writing. The lecture was followed by our first reading session of this cycle, led by Maestro Nicholas Kraemer. We gathered in a big circle and read a Bach orchestral suite, with Maestro Kraemer coaching us on the style in which to perform Bach and how to play together in this large chamber group. Like a lot of Civic experiences, this felt a bit like being back in music school – minus the anxiety and student loan debt.

There was another aspect of our preparation for Bach Marathon: in addition to studying the music, we also took part in a workshop with Professor David Wallace on how to produce an interactive performance. In his book, Engaging the Concert Audience, he writes, “An interactive performance is an event where the performers help the audience members to perform, create, and reflect in ways that heighten their musical perceptions.” We talked about going beyond merely talking to the audience and to, instead, get them involved by singing and moving, and asking them questions about their own experiences. Throughout the cycle, David would coach our groups on the interactive performances we were going to give during the Bach Marathon.

Later in the week, the Civic Fellows were hosted by the one and only Lori Julian. Lori is a CSO Trustee and all-around supporter of young artists – especially the Civic Orchestra and our fellowship program. Lori was kind enough to gather us all together for a delicious meal in her lovely lakefront apartment!


And during the actual Bach Marathon, the entire orchestra had a meal together before performing our finale concert at Fourth Presbyterian Church. After a morning and afternoon filled with volunteering at Chicago food pantries —  learning about food insecurity (one in 7 people in Cook County will experience food insecurity this year); learning about the food deserts across our city, where lack of access to nutritious meals – this dinner gave us time to reflect on the privileges we may take for granted and offered perspective on our roles and abilities to give back to our audience.

By Civic Fellow and double bass Joe Bauer

TOP: Civic Musicians perform for the senior residents of Wesley Place during the Civic Orchestra’s fifth annual Bach Marathon. | Photo by Todd Rosenberg