John William Trotter on "American Songbook" - Chicago a cappella

When I was a kid, I signed up for pretty much all the music stuff in middle school.  There was band. There was choir.  But then there were the things that happened at lunch time. These were extracurricular, optional.  They had names like “vocal jazz,” or “jazz band.”  Even just saying those phrases made me feel cool. 

My earliest musical memory of middle school is singing a three-part arrangement of Blue Skies. Over the years, it was followed by many more “up tempo charts”, as we called them: Come Fly with Me, I Got Rhythm.  The melodies, the lyrics, the underlying rhythms all seemed so assured, so witty, so confident.  And after the painstaking work of learning them, so were we. 

Then there were slower songs, which I heard more seasoned people sometimes refer to as “ballads”: The Way You Look Tonight, Send in the Clowns, My Funny Valentine. When we sang the ballads, we were reaching out toward experiences well beyond our 13 years of age. This music, and these lyrics, were reflective – sometimes profound, sometimes world-weary, and sometimes, most poignantly, both. We sang as far into these songs as we could, imagining we sounded older than we probably did. 

Over many years, I played and sang the classic American Songbook before ever realizing I was doing so.  The rhythmic grooves, the rich harmonies, the perceptive and poetic lyrics, became part of my musical and cultural language.   

Later, once I had been composing and analyzing music for some time, I began to see how deeply crafted and inspired many of these (supposedly “light”) pieces were. Many of these songs are, quite simply, great works of art.  I hope, of course, that you will find the performance enjoyable and satisfying. But more than that, I allow myself to hope that each of us will be subtly changed by what we experience here, that we will leave with a richer sense of what it means to be human, to be alive, and to participate in the immense and mysterious gift of music. 

There’s an extra, very personal layer, to this program for me. The A Cappella American Songbook was the name of the first concert I ever prepared for Chicago a cappella, way back in the 2012-13 season.  Now, ten years later, we return to where it all began – a testament to the enduring worth of these enduring works. 

Music reached out to each of us in so many different ways: some are highly personal and individual, while many are shared. One thing we know for sure, as performers, is that your presence will change the nature of this performance. 

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