High- and low-brow cultural goings-on in the Second City, brought to you by a roving microtechnoanthropologist

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Location: Chicago, Illinois, United States

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Monday, July 23, 2007

When a Body Meets a Body Comin' Through the Nose: Chicago Sings in Millennium Park

So, when I was volunteering at the Resource Center on Tuesday, I was perusing the school's main web page and noticed two things: First, that two of the teachers are blogging from Moscow as part of their pilot exchange program; the second was that a number of OTSFM-related folks, including Robbie Fulks (with whom we traditionally spend the third Sunday of the month), were participating in Chicago Sings at Millennium Park. And Frank Gehry always inspires me to sing. howl, or whatever.

I packed up my Assassins' Guild satchel with a blanket in case we needed to sit on the lawn, and we were off. Traffic, for once, was fairly light, and we got parked in the garage with no difficulty. We then, of course, discovered that we had no idea how to get out of the MP garage, courtesy of really terrible signage.

Worries about blankets and lawns were for naught. There were plenty of seats still available, although there were a few hundred people already there and maybe another hundred sprinkled about the lawn. We sat in front of the control booth right about in the center of the seats. The "house band" was already playing when we sat down, and Christopher Bell , the Grant Park Chorus director came out as the "warm-up band." He explained that this Sing-Along was both the continuation of similar efforts mounted by the city around Christmas and a brand-new experiment in moving sound from the audience to the stage when the space is renowned for its acoustics in the other direction. (With time, I've escalated the band shell to definitely ugly, but really the sound is astounding.)

Bell did a great job getting the crowd warmed up with a fairly complex medley of "Sing, Sing, Sing," "Oh When the Saints Go Marching In," and "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot." He got voices going with a combination of well-paced instruction and pointed insults about Chicago accents. For some reason, M was particularly affronted about "American Ts," when clearly his mocking of our nasal tones was the unkindest cut of all.

Robbie and family (including not just Tennessee and Preston, but wife Donna and mother-in-law Sharon as well). There section was a little . . . free form. They started with "Hard Day's Night," and no instruction. I've got to admit that I'm rusty on the lyrics of all but the chorus. But if one found that challenging, their choice of Bill Anderson's "Cocktails" for their second number was probably not for you. (Myself, I find young children singing balls-out country songs to be hilarious.) And then, just to be sure that no one would regain his or her footing while they were on the stage, they finished up with "Me and My Arrow" from Getting to the Point. Up next were Mariachi Perla de Mexico, who were great, but there was not much emphasis on the "along" part of their singing on account of its being in rapid-fire Spanish. However, one of their fiddle players had an absolutely magnificent tenor.

But the "along" part of the afternoon was not lost for good. Next up was nearly the entire vocal staff of the OTSFM: Elaine Moore (my very first vocal tech teacher), Kathy Cowan, Chris Kastle (she of the shanties), Barb Silverman, Robert Tenges, Tisa Batchelder, and Rita Ruby (my harmony teacher). They led us through "The Crawdad Song," "Jamaica Farewell," and "I'll Fly Away," all of which were great fun. To finish up the Sing Along (considerably earlier than indicated on the schedule), Ella Jenkins and her trusty tenor guitar (with several of the Old Town vocal staff as back-up singers) led us all in some funny but very decidedly kiddo songs after teaching us all to say hello in about 7 billion languages. And for the big finale we had everyone crowding back on the stage for a rousing rendition of "Rollin' in My Sweet Baby's Arms," which Elaine taught to us. The band members, mariachi and house, rocked out and we ended in a bit of a muddle.

Overall, it probably could have used a little more planning and structure. And advertising! . . . I know it's part of a general, summer-long "Target Family Fun festival," but I hardly saw anything about it at all other than on the school's website (which is a sadly well-kept secret of its own, requiring more planning, structure, and advertising, but that's another story for another time). Still it was great fun and I hope they do more of them.

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