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'Crowd Out' At The Bean Brought A Thousand Voices Together In Glorious Noise Sunday

By Tankboy in Arts & Entertainment on Oct 2, 2017 6:22PM

This Sunday’s crowd out—a thousand person choir performing together in Millennium Park, was a rousing success. Presented jointly by Chicago Humanities Festival and Illinois Humanities, it was an ambitious project of enormous scope, involving more preparation that you might have thought.

Chicago is no stranger to large performance pieces based on crowd participation—Guitarkestra, anyone?—but those tend to be spontaneous events based more on chance that rigid structure.

crowd out wasn’t some random gathering or flash mob. Participants attended a handful of rehearsals held this summer around town to learn the original composition by David Lang. But Sunday was the first time all the “performers” assembled in one place, under the guidance of conductors Donald Nally and Tim Munro, and brought a thousand voices together.

We chatted via email with Alison Cuddy, the Artistic Director for the Chicago Humanities Festival, about how the whole thing came about. It’s been in the works a lot longer than we thought.

Cuddy told us, “Tim Munro approached the Chicago Humanities Festival over two years ago about bringing crowd out to Chicago. We loved the idea and especially wanted to make sure that in the spirit of David Lang's piece—which in part involved crowdsourcing the libretto and is designed for 1,000 untrained voices—that this would be a project anyone from anywhere in Chicago could join.”

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But an event of this size is a pretty overwhelming endeavor, so luckily the Chicago Humanities Festival didn’t have to shoulder the whole burden themselves.

Cuddy added, “Thanks to our partnership with Illinois Humanities that vision was realized, and I can't fully convey what a total thrill it was to see such a diverse range of people come together and throw themselves wholeheartedly into this strange and beautiful piece: young and old; black, white and brown; choir members, community organizers, grade school and university students; business owners; politicians; artists and random people who just happened to pass by at the right moment! A total trip”.

So how did this tie into the theme of this year’s Chicago Humanities Festival?

Cuddy said, “Our theme of this year's Fallfest is Belief and the event was the perfect kick-off to our season, as a really great expression of what it means to believe, to have faith or trust in the people around us, even when they are total strangers. We can do anything when we come together like that."

Finally, Cuddy said, "Lang believes music is community and the Chicago Humanities Festival believes the humanities—not just as a discrete set of disciplines but as a stance toward the world expressed through our programs—curious, empathetic, engaged—is the best way to build and sustain community. I felt the power of that belief yesterday and was so glad to be there!”"