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Forest Park Lutherans have a deep tradition of choral singing. The Harlem Maenner und DamenChor - still active today - goes back to the 1890s, when Forest Park was still called "Harlem."
For St. John Evangelical Lutheran Church, that history of song manifests itself today in the Choristers, a child and teen choir affiliated with the church - and Walther Lutheran Academy School, located at St. John, but not limited to members of either.
"This is an outreach," said Choristers director Paul Lindblad. "This church and town have 100-plus years of choral music history. We want to offer this to children not associated with the church or school." Lindblad is music teacher at the school, director of Liturgics at St. John's and also directs the Oak Park Concert Chorale. The church itself is acoustically built for singing, says Lindblad. "There are [acoustic] sound shells at each end of the sanctuary."
The Choristers are a children's choir, but Lindblad says they do not play "kiddie" music.
"Choristers is serious vocal training of classical music and folks songs in Latin, German and English," he said. "We teach the do-re-mis, but also breathing, posture, stage presence, ear training, reading, sight-singing, as well as principles of drama - because singing is drama. We are not teaching a dog to do tricks, so to speak."
And Lindblad says the children are receptive and always rise to even difficult music. "At our awards dinner every year, the children have learned around 70 pieces and they get to select [which to perform]. It's always the heaviest pieces that they choose."
These might include an instrumental piece by Italian Baroque composer Tomaso Albinoni, arranged for voices by Lindblad as an "Agnus Dei" and sung in Latin, or a choral arrangement Schubert's lieder "An die Musik," sung in German.
"We are showing children serious music, and how to sing in serious choirs."
Lindblad has been teaching choral singing for more than 30 years. He started in the Des Plaines public schools, ran his own Paul Lindblad Choristers children's choir for 19 years and then began the St. John Choristers about five years ago.
The Choristers sing at the church once a month, but Lindblad insists he is not trying to proselytize for St. John. "I'm not a sheep stealer! The singers are finished by 9 a.m. - they can go to their own congregations if they choose." The Choristers also perform at Christmas Eve ceremonies where they sing sacred Christmas music for children's choirs such as "Once in Royal David's City."
Lindblad says Choristers who also attend the school accumulate so many instructional hours that they often jump right into advanced high school choirs, like Acapella, as freshmen. As adults, of course, they can join the Oak Park Concert Chorale.
In spite of Lindblad always warning his former students about the difficulties of taking up music as a profession, he's proud of Chorister alumni who have moved on to teach music in high schools, and at the university level. One former student is organist at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City.
"The Choristers are one of the most successful outreach programs that St. John has," said Lindblad.
Lindblad and his staff offer a two-week Choir Day Camp, July 30-Aug. 10 that gives children an introduction to serious choral singing and a taste of the Choristers, but with fun camp-like activities such as bowling and waterpark visits as well.
The two-week camp, third- through eighth-graders, runs from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. and starts with breakfast, followed by a morning of singing and learning about posture, breathing and sight reading ("We show them serious choirs, and humorous poor signers"). The afternoons are spent in more traditional camp activities, "playing laser tag or going to Enchanted Castle," Lindblad said. The camp ends with a recital and family barbeque. This year, campers will also sing Bach's "Jesu Joy of Man's Desiring" at a wedding in the church.
Camp counselor and former Chorister Justin Martin, 19, now plays trombone in the Concordia University band and is a drum major at the university.
"My [band director] said, 'Make sure to join a choir and sing; it will help you with your instrument in the long run.'"
"We try to give the campers an experience that's fulfilling instead of all fun. It's much more valuable for children to work to get fulfillment in a society of video games," said Lindblad.
Camp information is on the St. John Evangelical Church website. Call 847-420-9200 for more information.