Special Project: Chicago Speaks, Chicago Listens

When I began researching the kinds of programs the Civic Orchestra of Chicago engages in, I noticed that most of them focused on taking people and ideas from Symphony Center and bringing them out into other communities. Civic often collaborates with other individuals and organizations, but it generally does so in their communities. There is great benefit to this type of work, but I see room for more programming that seeks to use Civic’s considerable platform to amplify the voices of people doing great work in Chicago by bringing them into Symphony Center.

I see two main reasons for this type of programming. It introduces the Symphony Center audience and Civic Orchestra members to organizations, types of work, and opportunities for civic engagement that they may not have been aware of before. It also provides a space for community leaders and organizations to reach audiences they may otherwise be unable to access . Ultimately both of these benefits feed into a single goal of bringing people and organizations together so that resources can find need and everyone can become stronger through connection with one another.

This led me to an idea that I have come to call “Chicago Speaks, Chicago Listens.” Every season, Civic Orchestra members are invited to propose independent projects in the hopes that they can access some support to make their ideas a reality. I presented “Chicago Speaks, Chicago Listens” as my project this year and I am grateful to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s Negaunee Music Institute and Civic Orchestra for its approval. Through the process of preparing this event I have met many incredible people and learned a lot about this city.

The culmination of “Chicago Speaks, Chicago Listens” is a free event on June 10 at 7pm in Grainger Ballroom that pairs spoken remarks from three of Chicago’s community leaders with music performed by musicians of the Civic Orchestra. This season’s speakers are executive directors of Chicago-based nonprofits that focus on youth engagement through the arts. They are Ayriole Frost of Shift: Englewood Youth Orchestra, Elizabeth Metzger Sampson of The Chicago Poetry Center, and Priya Shah of The Simple Good. After each speaker, Civic musicians will perform new music by Chicago-based composers, inspired by the work of the young artists in the respective organizations. Following the program there will be a brief reception where everyone in attendance can meet and connect with each other, as well as the speakers, performers, composers, and young artists who made the event possible.

In developing a musical program that enhances the audience’s experience of the spoken remarks I have stumbled upon another exciting part of this project: the collaboration between the various musicians involved and the young artists in these programs. Maria Kaoutzani has written a piece based on beautiful photography by sixth-graders who participated in a program with The Simple Good.

Craig Davis Pinson wrote a piece based on an incredible poem written by a 4th-grader who participated in The Chicago Poetry Center’s programming. I, along with some of my colleagues, had the opportunity to see the composition process of the young musicians at Shift: Englewood and to interact with them. It was important to me that the composers and performing musicians on this project see these young artists as the driving collaborators, because this program is greatly inspired by their work, the impact they have on their communities, and the stories they can share with us.

I have been lucky to find a group of collaborators who are fully committed to making this a meaningful event. I am constantly inspired by their effort and creativity. I hope that you will join us on June 10 to participate in the result of these collaborations.


By Civic Fellow and Cello Philip Bergman