Culture in Chicago’s Southwest Suburbs

‘And down by the shore an orchestra’s playing’ 

My wife and I left the Southwest Symphony’s Orchestra’s superb concert celebrating the music of Cole Porter on Sunday humming “Begin the Beguine.”

It is perhaps my all-time favorite of Porters’ works – conjuring bright colored images of the tropics, especially welcome on that chilly rainy second Sunday of March as another long winter slowly unclenches its dark, cool grasp from my bones and mood.

It’s no accident the song has such a tropical flavor. Porter wrote it during a 1935 Pacific cruise aboard a Cunard liner between Indonesia and Fiji.

The Southwest Symphony Orchestra (SSO) dazzled us with its rendition of the song that so many artists, including Artie Shaw and Ella Fitzgerald, have made beloved standards, and Fred Astaire and Eleanor Powell danced to in the movies. It was the last song of Act I before intermission, toward which the SSO built momentum with such favorites as “Love for Sale,” “Anything Goes,” “I Get a Kick Out of You,“ “Let’s Fall in Love,” “I Love Paris,” and “Be a Clown.”  Liquid silk is how I best described the melodies.

Four fine soloists and Trinity Christian College’s own concert choir, under the direction of Helen Van Wyck, joined the orchestra, a regional treasure, for the concert given under the deft baton of conductor and music director, David L. Crane, in Trinity’s Ozinga Chapel on the campus in Palos Heights.

I don’t know about the rest of the audience, but the SSO’s accompanying soloists, the suave James Branden, an operatic tenor, and the “De-Lovely” soprano Kathryn Kamp and mezzo soprano Cassie Makeoff, transported us back to the era of the 1920’s and ‘30s, top hats, black-tie-and-tails and gowns to the floor.  I myself was decidedly under-dressed having come straight from the gym, Palos Health and Fitness Center in Orland, with a quick stop at Costco to consider a membership switch from Sam’s Club.  Others in the audience, many of whom I knew or recognized live in Palos-Orland, sparkled appropriately for the glitter of the occasion, befitting the swanky musical fare by that most debonair of American composers, the Yale alum, risque’ world traveling scion of a wealthy American family born a fellow Middle Westerner in Peru, Indiana.

“Oh, yes let them begin the beguine

make them play

til the stars that were there before

return above you

till you whisper to me

once more darling I love you

and we suddenly know what

heaven we’re in

when they begin

the beguine.”

If Sunday’s SSO concert was feast for the ears as well as the soul, the World War II exhibit that ended Sunday at McCord Gallery and Cultural Center in Palos Park fed the eyes and intellect.  Here, under one roof were German, Soviet, Royal Air Force, Canadian and American military uniform tunics, caps, helmets, weapons, including a Lugar and submarine guns, and relics from battlefields across Europe and the Pacific.  Plenty of military veterans and boys brought by their Dad or granddads alike were among those drawn to the exhibit.  It was like something out of small, fine war museum.

After a winter of hibernating with my wife in our cozy, warm cocoon watching Netflix, playing Scrabble on her iPad, venturing out reluctantly only for work, the gym, some holiday gatherings, errands and Mass, I am grateful to both the Southwest Symphony Orchestra and McCord for drawing me out to last weekend’s stirring and stimulating events. Both gave a promise of spring in the air, our dark Lenten winter soon yielding to resurrected hope shortly to come – from cold and darkness to warmth, sun and Light.