That’s a Wrap! Recapping the Civic Fellows’ 2018/19 season.

And just like that, the Civic Orchestra of Chicago’s 2018/19 Season came to a close! Some highlights from last season included CSO-Connect, residencies at Illinois Youth Center Chicago (IYCC) and BRAVE Youth Leaders, team community engagement projects, and last but not least, two Purpose over Pain songwriting projects with the London-based Irene Taylor Trust. Keep scrolling to read more!


I moved to Chicago the beginning of last September, and a week later I was on stage in Symphony Center rehearsing alongside the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, preparing for a Concert for Chicago — a free concert in Millennium Park presented by members of the CSO and the Civic Orchestra. What a way to start the season! Immediately following that, the Fellows presented a chamber concert series to be performed in Buntrock Hall at Symphony Center and at Zhou B Art Center. We then took a short weekend trip to Camp Wandawega in Wisconsin to spend some quality time getting to know one another, brainstorm ideas for upcoming projects, and of course, eat plenty of campfire s’mores! I could not have thought of a better way to start the season.

Clockwise from top left: Chicago Symphony and Civic Orchestras share a stage in Millennium Park’s Pritzker Pavilion to open the 2018/19 season. Over 10,000 people attended the concert, which was led by CSO Zell Music Director Riccardo Muti. | Todd Rosenberg Photography. The Civic Fellows begin their season with a retreat to Wisconsin’s Camp Wandawega. The fellows give a recital at the Zhou B Art Center as part of the gallery’s 3rd Friday performance series.

In addition to orchestral concerts, the Fellows also engage in group community projects. We are split into smaller groups to cover regions in the city of Chicago, being the North Side, West Side, and South Side. With funding provided by the Negaunee Music Institute, each group is tasked with designing and developing a project that will somehow aid the community in their respective regions.

This season each group did a phenomenal job! West Side held a teaching residency at Westinghouse College Prep, where they gave coachings and brought in African-American composer Shawn Okpebholo, to present his piece and personally work together with the students on it. South Side collaborated with local artists based on the South Side of Chicago, including Hip-Hop violinist Windy Indie and jazz singer Maggie Brown. After a period of workshops to develop and arrange music suited to their individual styles, a final concert was given at Experimental Station in Hyde Park. Lastly, North Side held an interactive performance residency at Chicago Methodist Senior Services (CMSS), where we worked closely with and designed unique, musical sessions each week specifically tailored to the residents at Hartwell Place, a center for memory care patients. I worked on the North Side, and being able to witness the effects of music on those with memory loss was incredibly moving. I was greatly inspired by this project, by the concept of music and medicine, and I am most definitely hoping to continue a form of this kind of work in my future career. To read more about the concluding of this project, see the Q&A blog post some members from North Side had with CMSS. Read more here and here.

pic2
The Civic Fellowship North Side Group after the CMSS fundraiser.

A major part of the this Fellow’s season included our beloved Sara Lee and Rex Horan. Sara and Rex are teaching artists of the Irene Taylor Trust based in London, where they work with society’s undeserved community members and create original music to help aid rehabilitation and the process of coping with trauma. Sara, Rex, and the Fellows came together to create original music for Purpose over Pain, a support group for members of St. Sabina Church who have lost family members to gun violence.

With only a short week and a half to meet the parents, learn their stories, write, record, and give a final concert, the Fellows participated in songwriting and orchestration workshops given by Sara and Rex, and then hunkered down to create our original tunes. Both times we did Purpose over Pain, my colleagues and I were emotional messes! I hope the members of Purpose over Pain know how much we appreciated their bravery in sharing their stories with us. It was a project that left me pretty vulnerable, but allowed me to directly experience music and its ability to touch the soul. Thank you, Sara and Rex, for showing us how to be musicians with meaning. To read more about Purpose over Pain, click here.

ABOVE: The Civic Fellows and Purpose Over Pain present a culminating concert of new songs at St. Sabina Church. June 2019, Todd Rosenberg Photography

Last but not least, I’d like to take a moment to give personal recognition to all my colleagues from the Fellowship this year. This group of people continually inspires me with their musical talent, intellect, and passion for music and the arts.

  • Carmen Abelson helped organize and facilitate the South Side concert at Experimental Station, which was one the most uplifting, lively and fun concerts I’ve ever been a part of!
  • Joe Bauer single-handedly organized Apple Pie, a concert that consisted of 15 musicians, 5 actors, 13 words and a world premiere painting, combined to create an hour long narrative led by chamber music.
  • Philip Bergman organized and produced Chicago Speaks, Chicago Listens, an event that paired spoken remarks from community leaders of non-profits that focus on youth engagement through the arts, with original music performed by musicians from Civic.
  • Rebecca Boelzner also organized and produced a beautiful string quartet concert, Notes on Nature, designed to highlight climate emergency in its programming and organizational process, while also giving audience members direct actions they could take (we planted eco-friendly plant-able programs made of wildflower seeds in the community garden afterwards!). I was lucky to play in this concert as well, and it was a huge success!
  • John Heffernan also created a concert event, Closets are for Clothes. This concert’s aim was to put the LGBTQ community center stage and tell each composer’s unique journey of self-acceptance and discovery. A wonderful way to celebrate Pride month!

Shifting things away from concert programming, there were many breakthrough musical accomplishments this season as well.

  • Alexandria Hoffman played her first time with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra
  • Dan Price won his first audition
  • Pei-Yeh Tsai spent quality time reflecting upon and working on solo piano
  • Quinn Delaney will soon start his new job as principal bassoon with the Charleston Symphony Orchestra. Congrats, Quinn!
  • Laura Pitkin played a huge role in successfully helping plan and lead our longest lasting project CSO-Connect
  • Alice Park got married
  • Juan Olivares is currently on tour in France!
  • Robin Schulze has shown incredible entrepreneurial skills with Brasstache. Since starting his business online last October, he has now sold over 5,000 units and is still continuing on expanding distribution to more music stores with new designs and colors!
  • Roslyn Green created a songwriting collaboration of her own, partnering with Unity Hospice Chicago and matched with someone receiving treatment for a terminal illness, she wrote songs with their family to help celebrate their values and relationships.

That’s a Wrap! The 2018/19 Civic Fellowship Season is officially in the books.

So what is the Civic Fellowship about? What makes it special? I think it’s the people. I think it’s every single one of these incredible musicians with whom I am so grateful to have been able to work. A special thank you to all the staff at the CSO’s Negaunee Music Institute as well, Molly Walker, Kim Joslyn, James Hall, Jonathan McCormick and Ben Wise – we couldn’t have done it without you!

As I type this post I am on a train going from Amsterdam to Germany, the view outside my window is filled with vast, rolling green hills and small German villages. I’m able to reflect upon the past season and how I’ve learned and grown more than I ever could have imagined. As for me, my time with Civic also comes to a bittersweet close, as I’ll be leaving Chicago after the summer and continuing on with my career back in Germany, where I had been pursuing my master’s degree prior to coming to the city. Even though I’ll miss Chicago, I feel so grateful that music has taken me to so many wonderful places and that I’ve been able to meet so many incredible people along the way. As we all move on in our individual directions, I am certain that in some form or another music someday will bring us back together. And when it does, I look forward to that day and to all the new stories that will be shared.

By violin and Civic Fellow alumna Queenie Edwards


TOP: The Civic Fellows gather after an emotional and successful performance of new songs. The pieces were written by the fellows, Rex Horan, Sara Lee, and the inspiring  parents of Purpose Over Pain. St. Sabina Church, June 8, 2019 | Todd Rosenberg Photography.