Learn About Dr. Laura Berman

Oct 5, 2016

Laura Berman, PhD, is a world renowned sex and relationship educator and therapist; popular TV, radio and Internet host; New York Times best-selling author; and assistant clinical professor of ob-gyn and psychiatry at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University in Chicago.

Considered a thought leader in her field, Dr. Berman has helped countless couples build stronger relationships, improve their sex lives, and achieve a heightened level of intimacy through her TV and radio shows, books, columns and website, along with her private practice based in Chicago. Dr. Berman is a New York Times best-selling author of many books on sexual health and pleasure, a weekly columnist for the Chicago Sun Times, and host of the radio program “Uncovered with Dr. Laura Berman.” She has appeared on Fox News, CNN and the TODAY Show, as well as in The New York Times, USA Today, and every major woman’s magazine. Dr. Berman serves on the advisory board for The Dr. Oz Show and is a regular guest on The Steve Harvey Show.

Chicago Tribune raves about “Shakespeare a cappella”

Feb 16, 2016

The Chicago Tribune's John von Rhein raves about Chicago a cappella's "classy pizzaz" in Shakespeare a cappella: "The performances were achieved at a very high level — fresh and spirited, yet with exacting attention to intonation, blend and tonal refinement."  Read the short review here (it appears at the end of article).

Donnelley Challenge Grant

Dec 7, 2015

Chicago a cappella has received an exciting challenge from the Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation.  This season, the Foundation will match any new gifts, increased gifts, or returning gifts up to $25,000!

  • If you have never made a gift to Chicago a cappella, your entire contribution will be matched dollar-for-dollar!
  • If you made a gift last season, any increase of your gift this year will be matched dollar-for-dollar!
  • If you gave in previous seasons but not last year, your entire gift will be matched dollar-for-dollar!

This is a wonderful opportunity, but we need your help to make it reality.  Your tax-deductible gift will support our educational and artistic programming.  Help us meet this challenge: donate now!

A Chanukah Celebration with Chicago a cappella

Dec 1, 2015

Chicago a cappella has produced an hourlong radio special for the WFMT Fine Arts Network, called A Chanukah Celebration with Chicago a cappella.  Hosted by our Artistic Director, Jonathan Miller, the program includes performances of Chanukah music from the ensemble's concert and CD recordings over the last 15 years.  In addition to the broadcast on WFMT in Chicago (on Dec. 6), stations around the country are airing it throughout the month.  Check your local NPR or classical radio station schedule!  The full program is also available online.  

Outreach program receives national recognition

Jun 9, 2015

Chicago a cappella’s work with high school students has received national recognition.  The national service organization Chorus America recently focused on high school choral festivals for the cover story of its magazine, The Voice.  Four organizations were presented as outstanding examples: Carnegie Hall, Chanticleer, the Los Angeles Master Chorale, and…Chicago a cappella!  The article states, High school choral festivals engage teens, produce powerful music, and leave a lasting impact.”  One student interviewed “says that his festival experiences with high-level professionals showed him ‘music has the power to change lives.’Read the entire article here.

Chicago a cappella's Youth Choral Festival includes high school students from all over the Chicago area.  This year's festival will be held Saturday, November 7, 2015, at the Logan Center for the Arts on the campus of the University of Chicago in Hyde Park.  We invite you to join us for the inspiring public concert (5 PM) that caps off the day.  If your school is interested in participating, contact Education/Outreach Coordinator Susan Schober.

2015 Non-Profit Community Partner Organizations

Jan 30, 2015

In conjunction with our A Cappella en Español concerts, Chicago a cappella is honoring and partnering with four exceptional non-profit organizations, each serving the Latino/Spanish-speaking community surrounding one of our concert locations.  Each organization will be honored on our concert stage and a representative will take a few minutes to educate our audience about the extraordinary work they do in their community. 

Centro Romero is a community-based organization located in Rogers Park, serving the refugee immigrant population on the northeast side of Chicago and the surrounding suburban areas.  Their mission is to provide opportunities for community residents through education, emphasizing the development of the whole family unit, the creation of community leadership and self-reliance.  Their interrelated programs include Youth Learning and Leadership Development, Women’s Empowerment Projects, Adult Education, HIV/AIDS Outreach and Education, and Legal Services.
Corazon Community Services is a Cicero-based organization seeking to improve the quality of life for families, children and youth through holistic social services offered in a culturally sensitive environment.  They offer local residents a comprehensive set of programs, focusing on Prevention, Intervention, Education and Health, in a ‘settlement house’ style using a bilingual/bicultural approach.

Latinos Progresando is a well-established and highly-effective community organization located in Chicago’s Little Village neighborhood, the largest Mexican community in the Midwest.  Their mission is to serve immigrants with the highest quality, low-cost legal immigration services, community education and engagement, and advocacy/organizing around policy that affects immigrants.  Executive Director Luis Gutierrez is a dedicated community leader, and has been extremely helpful and generous with his time and resources helping CAC staff establish relationships within Chicago’s Mexican-American community.

Family Focus Aurora is one of seven Family Focus direct service centers throughout the Chicago area.  The Aurora center is helmed by Gonzalo Arroyo, a leader in the west suburban Latino community for almost two decades.  Their mission is to assist families in low-income, immigrant communities in giving their children the best possible start in life through customized classes, support groups and referral services in a warm, caring environment.

Chicago a cappella in The Huffington Post

Oct 16, 2014

Chicago a cappella's concert Global Transcendence: World Sacred Harmony and Chant was featured in The Huffington Post on Oct. 17.   Read the full article here.


Jul 25, 2014

Do you shop on Amazon? Sign up with AmazonSmile and do your shopping at the same store and you can determine a nonprofit that gets a percentage of everything you buy! Choose Chicago a cappella as your charity of choice and 0.5% of your eligible purchases on Amazon will be donated to Chicago a cappella. Sign up today!

Jonathan’s Mexico Trip - Part 9 - Conclusion

Jun 8, 2014

As part of our Mexican cultural exchange project, founder and artistic director Jonathan Miller is traveling to Mexico to conduct musical research, visit archives, and meet and confer with choral directors and composers. Enjoy his travelogue!

Sunday, May 25, 2014 – Day 9

The day began with a phone call to my wife Sandy, breakfast, and about an hour of hanging out with the little videos that I ended up having handy, since I had taken them during Thursday’s concert of children’s and  youth choirs. What a stroke of good fortune. I don’t know what possessed me at the time to make videos instead of taking pictures, but it was so great – because it quickly became clear that the best way to structure the masterclass was to use the videos as the basis for feedback about each choir.

Lupita picked me up at 8:30, and we drove to the school to start getting set up. I helped her with moving a few things around, and then we hung out in her office while she talked about her work in the school. Not easy. The politics are tricky, and the lives of so many of the kids whom she serves are in turmoil.  In fact, after the masterclass, she told me that the soprano in her choir who was trending sharp in her pitch is incredibly anxious all the time, due to the violence in her home. The only place this girl feels safe and lets her guard down is in choir.  (I was moved to tears by a recent NPR article, which I heard after returning home, about a Latina gang member in L.A., who told the conductor of a Latina-based orchestra that hearing her conduct the Brahms 4th Symphony was the first time in her life that she actually felt some emotion.  It seems that the two girls live in similar worlds.) So Lupita was explaining that the tension that lives in this girl’s body all the time was coming out in her singing, which pulled her pitch chronically sharp. Hopefully she can both learn to relax and be in tune, for the other soprano is beautifully right in the center of the pitch, a real gem of a singer.

The conductors started to mozy in, and around 9:30 we got started. Gaby went first, and I talked with her and then each director about what s/he did well and where improvement could be made. Some of them needed a little rhythmic crispness, or some help with tuning, a clearer or more compelling start to a phrase, or – in my view, which I was careful to qualify as personal opinion – a little more relaxed stage deportment like a smile from time to time. It was really fun and rewarding, and several hours whizzed by. I did almost the whole thing in Spanish…. Quite a confidence-builder. One of the funniest moments came when they all asked for my impressions of one of other festival choirs, whose director was not there that morning. I said, “Well, he’s not here, so I guess we can talk about him, yes?” We all cracked up. Then I made the analogy to the saying, “If you don’t vote, you can’t complain,” meaning that if this gentleman wasn’t there, it was open season in a sense for us to mention things his choir could do a little better.  We can all get better, right?  The spirit was very good and playful even as we worked hard.

Afterward, José gave me scores from the padre (now deceased) at the parish where he works – wonderful 3-part works for women’s and men’s choirs, available nowhere but in Guadalajara!  Now CAC has access to them…. what a blessing. And Gaby had brought 7 of her girls who wanted some coaching, which I gave them:  they sang “Seasons of Love” from Rent. This was so cute. The first line of the lyric is “Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes….” We spent most of the time working on American-English diction, since some of the vowels and consonants do not exist in Spanish, and I told them if they wanted to sound like they “had game,” they needed some American-sounding syllables. So I drilled them over and over again on the new sounds (a short “I” vowel as in “min-utes,” the “th” of “thousand,” and the Z sound of the S in “thousand”).  Here they are singing the “EE” vowel of “mee-nuts”, which took a lot of work to make an American “ih” vowel!   

“Think ‘Mic-key Mouse,’” I told them. That seemed to help. We had a great time.  All of them wanted hugs afterward. So charming.

After the masterclass, Lupita drove me back to the hotel. On the way, we talked about the fact that we have both done many things in our lives, and I mentioned that I work in software sales when I’m not working as a musician, and that I have a doctorate in musicology. She mentioned that she is a medical doctor!  Amazing. She just can’t get music out of her veins, so she does all the stuff that she does. We are both so fortunate to have incredibly supportive spouses. Now I just have to get Sandy and Ramón to meet – that would be fun.

Sunday afternoon was a little precious down-time. I did some shopping for friends and colleagues back home. The highlight was the hour I spent at the booth of an amazing Chilean jewelry maker, who is also a painter. He had a whole booth of semi-precious stones at the market near the Joyeria (the indoor jeweler’s mall, which is closed on Sundays).  I hung around for a while as he talked to other people. Then I noticed that he had a lot of round turquoise stones. He showed me two of the same size and said, “Can you tell which is fake and which is natural?” He explained the difference. I had been on the lookout for something special for Sandy, and this guy and I struck a deal:  he would make a necklace for Sandy out of stones that we selected together. I asked him for a price. Since it was outside, the custom is that you can haggle a bit. I offered a lower price, and he looked at me with a twinkle in his eye and said, “Okay, as long as you throw in a Intenso coffee from the 7-11 over there!” I had to go back and ask him what that was (a double-strength brewed coffee…. We don’t have that here). Very funny. The guy is a wizard:  here he is at work.

The other task was to buy a little rolling suitcase to hold all the CDs and scores. I tried to haggle for that, but the woman wouldn’t budge;  same for an Indiana Jones-style hat from Chiapas that another woman was selling near my hotel. But I bought them anyway.

The next day was a long and tiring travel day back to Chicago

* * * * * *
I am back in Chicago as I finish writing this up.

México, te amo: I love you.  I had been to Mexico three times before, but never like this.  What an amazing journey of heart and soul, music and friendship, history and the very rich present day of culture. This trip far exceeded my expectations. As I told the taxi driver on my way to the Guadalajara airport:  “I am rich in music, and my heart is full.” That is a blessing that I will treasure forever.  The cup of creativity is full and runneth over. Heart-full thanks to everyone who helped to make this happen.


Jonathan’s Mexico Trip - Part 8

Jun 8, 2014

As part of our Mexican cultural exchange project, founder and artistic director Jonathan Miller is traveling to Mexico to conduct musical research, visit archives, and meet and confer with choral directors and composers. Enjoy his travelogue!

Saturday, May 24, 2014 – Day 8

This day was an unexpected blessing. It started out with a walk around 7:30am in the cool morning air, when I went to stretch my legs and find an ATM. I initially went in search of coffee too, but the nicer coffee places didn’t seem to be open. I passed the cathedral on my walk.

I popped into the cathedral and found an early-morning mass in progress. I heard the “Alleluja” verse sung, led by a nun with a clear, strong voice, before the reading of the gospel. The “j” consonant was the Mexican version that was a little like a “djz”, so the result was sort of like “Ah-leh-lu-dzja.” Very sweet.

Kamuel Zepeda is my new dear friend here in Guadalajara. He is a pianist, conductor, scholar, historian, and just a sweet guy. He has done a number of different things in his musical life, most of which he has spent here in the GDL area. His dad is rather a big deal on the local arts scene, a well-known architect and professor of architecture and former was principal of the school of the arts here, as well as a freelance painter and expert in fresco paintings. Kamuel’s dad was also a consultant on the repair of the famous Orozco frescos here in town, when they started suffering water damage at the Governors’ Palace, which is a big honor.

I met Kamuel because he is the principal at one of the community music schools that Lupita Chavira runs here in Guadalajara.  He has been there since January of this year—in the right place at the right time, as he told me later in the day. Just a great guy. His gentle spirit reminds me of my friend Michael Oriatti, who is now a professor of choral conducting at Lyon College in Arkansas.

Here is Kamuel at breakfast with me. We ate a place called Chai –great buffet, easy on the wallet, open-air as so many restaurants here are.

We then headed on foot all the way to the east end of downtown, where the Instituto Cultural de Cabañas is located. It was so cool being with Kamuel on this walk, because he knows everything about art and architecture in Guadalajara, in addition to his expertise as a musician. Before we got to the murals, we saw a number of points of interest, and I got more and more of a history lesson about Mexico in general and Jalisco in particular as we moved through the day.

Here is THE SPOT where the city of Guadalajara was founded, 470 years ago.  

And a close-up of the inscription at the bottom, showing the date of February, 1542 – amazing:

Kamuel explained that there were a few attempts to create a city called Guadalajara in various places around here. The others didn’t stick;  this one did. A rather fierce woman named Beatríz Hernandez was part of the crew that made sure this Guadalajara would endure, and she’s memorialized here on this monument:

As we walked, Kamuel pointed out some Art Deco architecture that graces the Centro Histórico. The chevrons in the iron railing are as indicative of Art Deco (at least to this Chicago boy’s eyes) as anything else.

As with so many cities, there are areas where there are restrictions on making changes to historically-protected buildings; as in some others, the government here gives no funds for the upkeep of the buildings, and many owners aren’t interested in keeping them in good repair. This is true of buildings from the Virreinal period up through more recent ones.

Despite the lack of interest/funds for remodeling, there’s a movement afoot wherein more people are moving back to the central city from elsewhere, and formerly dormant office buildings are becoming shops, restaurants, schools (beauty schools etc.), and even a few apartments.

On the way to see the Orozco murals, we stopped in to visit the University of Guadalajara’s School of the Arts. This is where Kamuel himself studied, and his father was the principal here for many years and taught architecture.

In the main courtyard there were a number of young people practicing instruments. Anyone, student or not, can come in here on the weekend and practice. It was Saturday, and the place was hopping.

Through a door we entered another courtyard where students are working on sculpture. I took extra pictures for Laura, my daughter, who is studying ceramics and art in college. Here are a few.

Upstairs there are painting studios, dance studios, you name it. Kamuel has taught a variety of things here, including rhythm and music to dance students. I thought that was cool; he covers the basic dance forms, has them learn the structure and what to count and listen for when dancing and choreographing, and so on.  I had never connected those dots before.

Here’s a dance-studio mural:

Remembering this makes me even more excited about our upcoming collaboration with Ensemble Español Spanish Dance Theatre in February 2015—the artists there are so inspiring for me. When Matt and I met with José and Irma from Ensemble Español a few weeks ago, we talked about which songs to choreograph—and, rather than showing us much dancing on video, the main thing they did was play music, which is what gives rise to the choreography.

  • Sidebar:  I like drawing parallels between things. Reflecting on my discussion with Kamuel, I wonder if, in the creative process, music is to dance the way words are to choral music. What I mean is this:  does one give rise to the other, more or less, in the creative process?  I am thinking about my experience as a composer.  I write choral music to a text.  If anything, the melodies in my head are tunes to songs I already know. I generally don’t have new melodies floating around in my head, by which I mean melodies in search of a text.  Beethoven did, and he famously carried a sketch book around to make sure he wrote down his best ones. Some composers, of course, have the gift of writing music without a text (Stacy Garrop can do both texted and untexted new music, for example, which gets my respect).
  • When I am fired up by a piece of poetry, then I start to hear new music, usually with the rhythm first. My favorite example of this is my Shehecheyanu, which came to me as I was walking down the street, thinking about the prayer and having my feet hit the pavement.  Similarly, the Ensemble Español people choreograph to a piece of music. José and Irma were talking about creating a new dance for our collaboration, and we need to pick the music first.  So it seems that, depending on your art form, one of the other arts can propel yours. And I suppose the opposite direction can work too, in that Chopin wrote waltzes and mazurkas, which could have been inspired by watching dancers. Anyway, end of digression.

Then we went on to the main attraction of the city, from a cultural point of view. The Instituto Cultural de Cabañas houses the amazing, huge frescoes by Orozco. Kamuel explained that these are the largest installation of frescoes in the world, second only to the Sistine Chapel. The building is a UNESCO cultural treasure. Here is the courtyard that you enter first, en route to the main event.

The interior of the building, where the frescoes are, was originally a hospital for orphaned children. What I did not know is that fresco does not refer to being out of doors—these are indoor frescos—but rather to the artistic technique, which is to put cement on the wall and to paint it while it’s still fresh. (Duh, it makes sense, but I never studied art!)  I won’t go into a long treatise about them:  the pictures speak for themselves. Here are a few:

Amazing. It also had a fantastic gift shop, where I bought ten CDs of traditional Mexican music.

There are more Orozco murals in the governors’ palace, where we went next. Here’s a plaque there, showing that Benito Juarez used Guadalajara as the center of Mexican government for a while (he moved around the country to avoid getting killed).

The hall where the legislators used to meet (they don’t any more) is covered with Orozco murals. Just beautiful. The acoustic in there is great too, although Kamuel told me they don’t use it for concerts, only poetry readings and other sorts of events from time to time.  I’m getting an idea…

We next stopped at the Biblioteca Octavio Paz. The music selection was pretty slim, but the building was pretty. A few blocks down the road is another main building from the University of Guadalajara, which is now not only an art museum but also the place where the Board of Regents meets whenever it has serious official business to transact.

As you might imagine, there’s a surprise inside:  more Orozco murals and a great acoustic!

This one is famous, the “five faces of man”:

Next, Kamuel took me to his father’s studio. The guy has a rather wacky imagination, which I really liked. Here are a few pieces of his dad’s work:

Kamuel himself has a studio in here, with a piano that he uses when he needs to get away from the city’s bustle. He also has a nice personal library of recordings and scores, and after I had offered a “Bound for Glory” CD and some Louis Sullivan-inspired stationery, he very graciously offered me copies of many of his scores to take home for browsing, which was very generous. This was an unexpected addition to my growing goldmine of music and sound. It’s almost impossible to get access to scores of Mexican choral music, as most of the publishers are out of business, but most of the 20th-century music is still under valid copyright due to their laws, so it will be a journey to find out how to get legitimate scores for performing purposes of some of these. Of course, the first task is actually to get hold of the repertoire, so I can decide whether or not I actually want to pursue a particular piece or composer.  I was blown away by all that he was willing to share with me, especially since musicians can be quite territorial about the scores that they actually do have… believe me, I heard stories.

We then went to a beautiful place for lunch, which Kamuel called a fusion of Mexican traditional dishes and haute cuisine. I ordered two things I’d never had before, and it was a memorable meal.

By the time “lunch” was over, it was almost 5pm. What a day!  We drove back along one of the main streets sporting stately homes, most of them repurposed as event spaces, high-end bridal shops, and so on:

What a nice day. Kamuel is truly one of the kindest people I have ever met. After returning to the hotel, I started thinking about packing to come home, and I’m glad I did, since I had so much new stuff that it quickly became clear I needed to go to the open-air market the next day and buy a cheap little suitcase for the trip home! I had a pretty quiet evening, which I very much needed, especially since Sunday morning was the masterclass with the conductors from Thursday night’s concert.

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