“Come and show me another city with lifted head singing/so proud to be alive…” challenged poet Carl Sandburg. Of the many musicians, artists, poets and writers who have portrayed Chicago through jazz, painting, poetry or prose, perhaps Sandburg did it best.
He called Chicago the “City of the Big Shoulders”, likening it to a corn-fed fighter, fierce and proud. But, though the fighter may be a coarse braggart, it is because “under his ribs [is] the heart of the people.” Despite its size and prominence, Chicago is not a daunting or intimidating city. It lacks the coldness of many big cities and the disjunction one feels there. Like the stereotypical Midwesterner, Chicago is husky but friendly.
Chicago has a unique feel that is neither East Coast nor West Coast. It is called (as I recently learned from the name of recent Rush Hour performers) the Third Coast. In part, Chicago’s personality comes from the diversity of the city. Chicago is made up of a bunch of neighborhoods and enclaves, each a little different: there’s Chinatown, Germantown, chic Wicker Park, and the South Side (where gospel was supposedly invented), just to name a few. But while Chicago is a city of neighborhoods, it is not a city divided. Each neighborhood has a distinct flavor, yet it seems that each takes pride in being part of Chicago as a whole.
This is a sentiment which I have met over and over again working with our community sponsors. For example, early in the season we presented a Chinese-themed concert event in partnership with the Chinese Consulate General. Working with them as well as the Chinatown Chamber of Commerce, we were able to branch out from our base at St. James Cathedral to work with businesses and institutions in Chinatown like the Chin Quo Bakery and the Chinese-American Museum. It was clear that these two places are proud of their Chinese heritage and are eager to share this with others. But, they also seemed proud to be a part of the city at large, contributing not just for the sake of spreading their culture, but in an effort to be involved in the greater community of Chicago. The different enclaves of the city do not keep to themselves; they fuse and meld, working together to make up the fabric of Chicago.
In large part, it is the nature of Chicago that allows Rush Hour to be so multi-faceted both in the type of music we present and who we work with. This year alone, we have put on concerts in partnership with the French, British, Chinese and German consulates. We have worked closely with The Poetry Foundation to create an event combining music and poetry. Perhaps because the city is so eclectic, Chicagoans and Chicago visitors are open to trying something new and experimenting a bit. Because of this, Rush Hour can present concerts with a wide array of influences. Where else can you hear Cage and Reich one week, and Bach the next? There is no prototypical Chicagoan, and there is no typical Rush Hour sound.
For me, Rush Hour has been a stage from which I have discovered and explored many of the different cultures and aspects of the city. I hope that this is true for our audience, too. But, Rush Hour’s involvement with the community is two-fold: in addition to providing an introduction to many of the different sides of Chicago, it provides a space to gather. This, in itself, is the basis of community.