A hush settles over the crowd as an orchestra tunes its instruments and the Grant Park Music Festival begins. Hundreds of people gather in Millennium Park each weekend in Chicago, but recently the crowds are growing for reasons other than The Bean and Crown Fountain. Many are here to listen to classical music.
The Grant Park Music Festival is a free performance series occurring in neighborhoods all over Chicago. Beginning in mid-July, the festival lasts through the end of summer. It features the Grant Park Orchestra and the Grant Park Chorus, both of which are made up of professional performers from all around the world.
The orchestra and chorus rehearse on a strict schedule to prepare for the concert series, which features music from famous and lesser-known composers alike. Chorus Personnel Manager Melissa Hilker reflects on the intense rehearsal schedule with enthusiasm. Hilker’s position includes overseeing the behind-the-scenes aspects of the chorus. “The chorus rehearses on their own, then they rehearse with the orchestra two times, and then [they] perform,” Hilker said. “You have to be a tough musician to make it in this group, because if you are not, you are not going to be able to keep up at the pace that these rehearsals go.”
As intense as the rehearsals are, the viewing and listening experience is catered to the desires of the concertgoer. Many different types of people attend these performances, all of whom have different amounts of interest in classical music. Marilyn Buente, an incoming freshman at Columbia University, noticed the diverse groups of people enjoying the classical concerts. “I have a pretty good appreciation for classical music because I am learning how to play it, but I do not know much about it,” Buente said. “Because I do not live in Chicago, I was excited to see the variety of purposes people were having there. People [were] … there for different reasons and all having a good time.”
The Grant Park Music Festival has put effort into making its music more palatable to a larger audience. The staff understands the importance of highlighting the talents of different composers to appeal and represent different voices. Orchestra Personnel Manager Linda Oper recounted the thought process put into choosing the music for each year’s program. Oper states that the orchestra has expanded the diversity efforts for the festival. “We are exploring BIPOC conductors and artists … different cultures, women, even hiring musicians in the orchestra when possible,” Oper said. “We are really exploring trying to diversify what we offer to our public.”
The Grant Park Music Festival emphasizes accessibility. While some can pay for seats close to the stage, many of the people in attendance sit on the grass for no cost. The Grant Park Music Festival performs each week from Wednesday to Saturday through late August. For more information on the festival, visit the website at https://www.grantparkmusicfestival.com.