Orchestra gains honors


Chicago City Wide Symphony Orchestra, which has called the Jefferson Park fieldhouse its home since 1953, welcomes former musicians who come across their musical instrument from high school and want to begin playing again.

The volunteer orchestra does not require auditions, and participation in the group’s four annual concerts is not contingent on having a strong attendance record for its weekly rehearsals. "You just have to be able to read music and keep up with us," orchestra president Jeanette Braun said. "We have had people as young as 14, and our oldest member now is 93."

The orchestra operates independently of the Chicago Park District, but it relies on the park district for many of its resources, including the free use of the fieldhouse’s second-floor auditorium for rehearsals and concerts, Braun said. Chung Yoon Park, a park district employee, has been the orchestra’s conductor since 1992.

The orchestra’s repertoire includes Georges Bizet’s "Carmen Suite," Giuseppe Verdi’s "La Florzo del Destino Overture" and Wolfgang Mozart’s "Jupiter Symphony." Alderman John Arena (45th) recently introduced a resolution in the City Council honoring the organization for its achievements.

Teacher Fanny Hassler founded the organization in 1947 and remained its conductor until 1983. Initially called Northside Children’s Orchestra, the group’s first concert was at Field Park, 5100 N. Ridgeway Ave., and in later years it was broken into three groups, reflecting the different age and talent levels of its members, before eventually becoming a single orchestra again in 1996.

Today the orchestra has a roster of 130 members, about a third of whom are very active, Braun said. "People come and go," she said. "They move and eventually they come back."

Braun said that the median age of the orchestra was 70 when she joined in 2002 but that the median age now is 40. She said that younger musicians apparently are learning about the orchestra through the Internet.

Rehearsals are held most Mondays from 7 to 9 p.m., and the orchestra’s next concert will be held at 3 p.m. Sunday, March 8, at the fieldhouse, 4822 N. Long Ave. Admission is free.

The orchestra’s Web site can be reached at www.citywideorchestra.org.