Chorus About Music ... And Community

Nov 20, 2015

Paul Marchese leads the DeKalb Festival Chorus in rehearsal.
Credit Guy Stephens / WNIJ

The DeKalb Festival Chorus launches its 44th season this weekend with an all American program.   The choir is about music – and community.

This is the 44th year for the chorus, but Paul Marchese’s first as its leader.  A native of Sycamore, Marchese returned to the area several years ago after graduate school and settled in DeKalb.  He’s directed several church choirs and teaches in the Chicago suburbs.  But he was really interested in the DeKalb Festival Chorus, and what it represented.

“A group of adults of varying backgrounds and experience levels getting together, to sing together, to make music together, was extremely appealing  to me.  It’s not out of service to a church.  It’s not out of obligation to a class.  It’s out of a pure love of singing and of music,” he says.

Marchese says there’s also a depth that you can elicit from an adult choir that you can’t from a group of young singers.

Marchese says the level of musicianship in the chorus is quite high, he says, and it has some really strong voices.   

“I think the biggest challenge for me has been more, where their strong points were, where their passions lay, what type of music they were interested in,” he says.

Marchese says with just one rehearsal a week, knowing that becomes especially important.  He’s been helped by the dedication of choir members like bass Ralph Benbow.  He’s been singing with the choir for 31 years, and says he almost never missed a performance.  

“I missed one concert I know because they scheduled my back surgery the day of the concert.  That was in 2002. But I love singing,”  he chuckles.

Benbow says even though he’s sung all his life, he never had music training, and sometimes it can be a challenge.  But it’s been rewarding, and he’s made a number of friends along the way.  

Tenor Norden Gilbert has been a member of the chorus for 37 years. He’s also on the Chorus’ board.  Gilbert says since anyone can join, getting a good balance between sections can be an issue, not to mention dealing with the varying levels of experience and training.  But, he says, he enjoys it.  Beyond that, he thinks the Chorus is important in a number of ways.   

“It’s just rewarding to get together and work on the music and present it to the community. But it’s also a value to the community to have this sort of opportunity to participate and also for people in the community to hear choral music,” he says.

Marchese agrees that the chorus provides benefits, both to the individuals and the community at large. He says there are a lot of therapeutic benefits to singing.   As people have become more isolated, it’s even more important to physically get together in a common purpose.  And it might even go beyond that, Marchese says. 

“I once had a director myself who said that he believed that if all the leaders got together and sang in a choir, there wouldn’t be any world problems.”

Marchese thinks there just might be some truth in that - at least from where he stands.

The DeKalb Festival Chorus performs Saturday night, Nov. 21, at 7pm at First Lutheran Church of DeKalb. The NIU Community School of the Arts Children’s Chorus will join the choir in a program of American music.