On the Record with Paul Marchese

DeKALB – Since the COVID-19 pandemic began last year, the DeKalb Festival Chorus has not been able to rehearse or perform in person.

The group’s first in-person event will be Songs in the Park, to be held at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, June 17, at the Hopkins Park Band Shell in DeKalb. The free event will allow members to reunite, rehearse and reconnect after a 15-month hiatus, as well as join the community together in song.

Residents are invited to rehearse and sing along with the DeKalb Festival Chorus. Sheet music will be provided at the event. By emailing dekalbfestivalchorus@gmail.com, people can receive the sheet music via email to familiarize themselves with the music in advance.

Paul Marchese, director of the DeKalb Festival Chorus, spoke to MidWeek reporter Katrina Milton about the event.

Milton: Tell me about the DeKalb Festival Chorus.

Marchese: The chorus has been in DeKalb for about 40 years. We are a community chorus, meaning anyone can join. Under “normal circumstances,” we have 40 to 50 members in the chorus. We usually perform once in the fall and once in the spring, with rehearsals every week. We rehearse at [Northern Illinois University], although we are not specifically NIU-affiliated.

Milton: What types of music does the chorus sing?

Marchese: We tend to focus on larger choral works: Mozart, Beethoven, Fauré. We also perform more modern works as well. One of the pieces we will be singing next week is an arrangement of “Amazing Grace” by a Wisconsin composer. After we did that arrangement a few years ago, we did one of his original compositions, and we’ve worked with him a couple of times.

Milton: What is the Songs in the Park event?

Marchese: The event is at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, June 17, at the Hopkins Park Band Shell. It is not a concert, it is an event. There will be a rehearsal and we will sing five pieces of music, ranging from Fauré's Requiem to an arrangement of “Over the Rainbow” with a ukulele. People are welcome to join us, even if they have never been part of the chorus – or any chorus – before. Sheet music will be available at the event. If they email us in advance, they can get to know the music ahead of time if they wish to practice. Everyone in the community is welcome to join us. There’s no cost and no pressure. It’s just an opportunity to sing together with other people.

Milton: Why is singing in person important?

Marchese: Our last rehearsal was mid-March 2020, and we tried doing some things online, but singing over Zoom doesn’t work. The event will be the first time since March that we’ll be together in person. We’ll be able to spread out and keep socially distanced while using the acoustics of the band shell. The goal of the chorus in general is to make it possible for people to sing. So many people were in choir in school, and fell off of it for years, and they miss it. They want to come back to singing, but there’s not many opportunities, especially if they’re not part of a church or a church choir. We also don’t just do church music. Our goal is to make it possible for people who haven’t been singing in 30 years to come back and sing.

Milton: What are you looking forward to the most about the event?

Marchese: I’m just really excited for the event. I’m looking forward to it, because there’s truly nothing like joining your voice with other people. I’ve sung all my life: I’ve sung solo, and I have a degree in opera performance. Singing by yourself is one thing, but joining your voice with other people creates a certain magic to it. When you’re singing with a group of people in person, you’re hearing your music joining with theirs. It also feels like your voice is joining others throughout history that have sung it as well. It’s a true expression of community, and that’s the thing that has been so difficult to achieve this past year, that sense of community. The focus of the DeKalb Festival Chorus is the community aspect. I’m looking forward to seeing these people that I haven’t seen in so long, as well as joining together our voices in song with the community.

Katrina J.E. Milton

Award-winning reporter and photographer for Shaw Media publications, including The Daily Chronicle and The MidWeek newspapers in DeKalb County, Illinois, since 2012.