Musichorale, the musical group that has been managed by three generations of the Silhan family for 75 years, will take the stage this weekend for what is likely to be its last holiday performance.
“The combination of the pandemic and other factors have worked against the group, reducing our membership,” said director Sarah Silhan-Koehler, the granddaughter of the group’s founder, Arthur Silhan. “As they say, nothing is the same as before.
“As of July 1, 2024, Musichorale will officially disband, and members who wish to continue singing will likely join other community choirs in the neighborhoods where they live.”
Musichorale’s Holiday Christmas Concert will be held at the Harold L. Richards High School Performing Arts Center in Oak Lawn on Dec. 10 at 3:20 p.m.
Silhan-Koehler, who started running the group in 2017, said the group, which once had about 70 members, has dwindled to about 35 members since the pandemic.
He said he was honored to step into the role undertaken by his ancestors.
“I also won’t say I wasn’t incredibly nervous. “There were very big shoes to fill after my father and grandfather for many years,” he said, adding that he was “very proud that our family name has been associated with Musichorale for so many years.”
This year’s holiday concert will continue many of the band’s traditions that it has performed since 1947, including opening with “The First Christmas” and “O Come All Ye Faithful” and closing with Peter Lutkin’s “The Lord Bless You and Keep You.” That’s when Arthur Silhan, who was serving in the choir at Chicago’s Lindblom High School, formed the band as a way to continue singing with his former classmates. Originally known as the Lindblom Alumni A Cappella Choir, it soon became the Chicago Choral Club and eventually the Musichorale in 1957.
“We would never consider changing the final song,” Silhan-Koehler said. “We will invite all our past members to join us on stage for this final blessing ceremony.”
It will also keep the unusual start time: 3:20, chosen by its founder so that “people will remember it and be at the concert on time,” Silhan-Koehler said.
The start time isn’t the only link to the band’s history. Arthur Silhan’s son, Emeritus Jeffrey Silhan, will conduct the majority of the concert.
“I think the choir has been ‘his’ for longer than mine, and it deserves to be the center of attention at our final show,” his daughter said. Jeffrey Silhan directed Musichorale for 37 years, starting in 1980.
Additionally, Arthur Silhan’s daughter, Cindy Gansel, will play a piano medley consisting of cantatas taken from long cantatas composed by her mother, Phyllis Silhan. Over time, Musichorale performed all of these cantatas.
“He wrote his music specifically for Musichorale and did not allow it to be published,” Gansel said. “When I think about my mother’s music, one of her most important cantatas was made in 1957. I was one year old. My siblings were 4 and 5 years old. Not only the accompaniment but also the lyrics are important. “Looking back, I see that he did this with little kids around.”
At the age of 8, Gansel started singing in a band formed by her father and mother and helped with administrative tasks such as sending mail. “Musicorale has been a part of my life since I was born,” said the artist, adding that he started accompanying the adult choir at the age of 16.
He held the position for 25 years until his nephew Silhan-Koehler was ready to take over, although he was still acting as a reserve. Gansel thanks the band for their work as organist and accompanist. “I have to be extremely grateful for the time I spent at Musichorale because it made me so much better at what I do now,” he said.
He described the band as “an extended family” in terms of its members, as they spend so much time signing together. “I think Musichorale touched a lot of people. “I think a lot of people who didn’t have much else in their lives made great friends, participated in social activities, and laughed a lot.”
She first sang in the choir in December 1972, as her husband, Keith Gansel, met his future wife’s family while they were in college. One of the brothers was her roommate and the other brother lived across the hall. Art Silhan became friends with the young man and convinced him to join Musichorale.
“I’ve always loved singing. I was in the high school choir. “I liked the music they made,” he said. “His father had a huge impact on shaping my adulthood. … I admired him, and he admired me.”
“Keith and I were better friends before we came out,” joked Cindy Gansel.
All three of their children joined the choir’s Miniature group when they were 3 years old.
He also remembered singing in downtown Chicago. “When I first joined, there were groups of close to 100 people going downtown for Christmas caroling,” he said. “We would march and sing all over the Loop and people loved it.”
Longtime Musichorale member Leticia Loren recalled spending “almost every night of the week” in December and parts of November singing with the group, including downtown. “Art was at Lyric Opera and had all kinds of connections,” she said. “You couldn’t do anything else. It’s not that intense right now.”
Loren, who has been an alto in the band for at least 45 years, said her aunt was one of the founding members of Lindblom High School, along with the Silhans.
“It’s great to sing with this group,” he shared, adding that friendship is important. “The people at Musichorale are very professional. They learn their music and you enjoy singing because your harmony and everything mixes so well. “For me, it was a blessing.”
Not using notes during the performance is an important component of singing with a group, he said. “When you learn your music by memorization, looking at a piece of paper distracts you.”
Judy Venkus, an off-and-on member for nearly 50 years, including the group Miniatures in her youth, loves singing with Musichorale. “We have a good group of people, a good friendship. The music keeps us together. I keep coming back. There must be something pulling me back.”
Silhan-Koehler said the best thing about being involved with Musichorale is the members. “They enjoy singing and being together for rehearsals, and most of them sing because they like that singing makes them happy or forget about annoying or frustrating things in their daily lives. “It is also gratifying to sing music that I truly love.”
Richards’ full-time accompanist for the choir department said following his family’s tradition brings “a mix of emotions.”
“While I am incredibly proud to continue leading the group, we have faced challenges, especially the pandemic, that my father and grandfather never had to face!”
It was not easy to know that the organization was over.
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“I have bittersweet feelings about the death of the choir. “Although it has always been a great group of people and many lifelong friendships have been maintained (there have even been a few intermarriages), it is also a huge commitment for my family and I,” he shared. “Very few of the members have the necessary experience to run the organization “He’s aware of the behind-the-scenes work. There are fewer and fewer members willing to take on the many jobs that keep an organization like ours afloat.”
Having older members also means it’s harder for them to attend rehearsals while traveling in retirement, and he has simplified the music a bit to accommodate older voices who don’t have as much range or stamina to maintain “the standard of excellence we set.” He was always trying to reach out.”
“I really think knowing when one day is going to be an important decision for the group. We will spend the spring season celebrating our 75th anniversary with a large event and plan our social events to include our members, patrons and supporters. “It’s been a great run, but now is the time to slow down.”
The initial completion of the 2023-24 season by July would align with the group’s financial year and give financial experts time to balance the books. Silhan-Koehler said the group’s original charter, dated 1947, stated that if the group disbanded, any remaining funds would be given to charities currently such as Park Lawn, Lambs Farm or Misericordia. Leaders also discussed proposing a member charity, but the money will be held in long-term accounts until a decision is made by the board, members and financial advisors.
Tickets for the Christmas show are $18 in advance or $20 at the door. Information at: www.musicorale.org.
Melinda Moore is a freelance reporter for the Daily Southtown.