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Community Concert Highlights Fight Against Hunger

Guy Stephens

Area efforts to combat hunger are the focus of a concert this weekend at NIU. 

“Make Our Garden Grow” will feature NIU, high school and community choruses.  NIU Choral Director Eric Johnson is the man behind the event.  WNIJ’s Guy Stephens asked him what he was hoping to accomplish.

Johnson: I wanted to create a project where I could bring together lots of community choral ensembles to benefit the county, the city, the greater area.  I was specifically interested in finding ways to help our students at NIU understand that the musical gifts and talents they have can be used in lots of different ways.  And so I’ve been looking at issues of food insecurity, and needs and poverty in the DeKalb community area, and then through talking to various community organizers, I came up with DeKalb County Community Gardens as a possible partner for this project. And then that began discussions, and into the project we have now.

WNIJ: One of the facets of this is, it’s not just you, or one of your ensembles.  It’s actually quite a number of people came on board. How did that happen?

Johnson:  That came out of the idea of me wanting to create community through song. I wanted to bring as many groups as I could, so we have the Stage Coach Players, the CCT Penguin Project, DeKalb High School, Sycamore High School, DeKalb Festival Chorus, all represented as ensembles, in addition to the NIU groups that  we have. So really bringing that idea of community coming to together to make a difference in the world.

WNIJ: Talk a little bit about the program.

Johnson: The program is entitled “Make Our Garden Grow,” and it’s an evening of Broadway music.  So each ensemble is doing two or three songs from everything from “Les Miz” to “Into the Woods” and “Ain’t Misbehavin’ and “Spamalot,” so we have some sublime and we have some ridiculous.  We are actually ending the program with one massed choir piece, Aaron Copland’s “The Promise of Living” so we’ll get all two hundred-plus singers on stage to finish the concert.

WNIJ: Well, What are you hoping? Just to bring people in?

Johnson: Partially it’s to bring people together.  In the lobby there will be a bunch of information about what’s going on in the DeKalb County area, so there’ll be posters and Power Point and stands explaining, what are the food needs, what is food insecurity, what’s happening in our county amongst our people?  And then there will be other information areas where we’ll be talking about, what is DeKalb County Community Gardens doing?  And also we’re sponsoring, or helping grow a new project called the Walnut Grove Farm, which is a farm that’s being put together for people with special needs.  And it’s going to be a working farm where they can learn to grow, gainful employment, and working with agriculture and horticulture here in DeKalb County. And then we will also be soliciting donations from people.  The concert itself is free, but we’ll be asking for donations, and then there will be examples out in the lobby – if you give five dollars, you’ll help buy packages of seeds for people in need, if you give a larger, they’re growing an orchard, so for a certain price you could purchase a tree, up to supplies for greenhouses and the like.  And then we also have plenty of community sponsors who have made pledges to help support this project.

WNIJ: Are people talking about next year already? Are you able to see whether or not this is going to be a one-off?

Johnson: I’d like to see how this one goes, of course, but I think the idea of creating annual community opportunities where we can really highlight what the needs are in our area, and identify ways how we can all work together to make the world better is a beautiful thing, and if we can do that through music, all the better.

"Make Our Garden Grow," a concert in support of DeKalb County Community Gardens, takes place at 7 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 6, in Boutell Memorial Concert Hall.  The concert is free, but donations are welcome.

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