In the spring of 1986, the idea of a community chorus was developed by Mr. James Winfield and the Western Springs Community Center Association (WSCCA). He approached Charles Neal, President of the WSCCA, to ask if the association would be open to the idea of starting a community chorus to rehearse in the Grand Avenue School. Mr. Neal was enthusiastic about the idea, with the hope that such a group could become the flagship organization of the new community center.
A publicity campaign was launched with around 35 people singing for 10 minutes at an association meeting to present the possibility of forming a chorus. At a second meeting, 80 people attended and enthusiasm ran high. The decision was made by the WSCCA to sponsor the proposed community chorus and that rehearsals would be held at the Grand Avenue School in Western Springs.
The chorus formed an executive committee and soon, thereafter, the choral group was branded “The Tower Chorale,” a name designated by Mr. Winfield and approved by the executive committee to signify something uplifting and to denote the water tower landmark in Western Springs. The Tower Chorale began their first official season in the fall of 1986 with a concert entitled “America Sings.”
Later in the 1990s, the WSCCA finished its mission of retiring the bonds that were initially issued in order to fund the donation of Grand Center to the village of Western Springs as a community center. The Tower Chorale then began the arduous process of becoming an independent non-profit 501 (c) 3 organization and was officially created May 27, 1999.
Over the years, the group has numbered 80-90 vocalists comprised of amateur and professional adult singers of all ages and backgrounds. The roster has included former members of the Chicago Symphony Chorus, the Grant Park Symphony Chorus, the Light Opera Works, the Chicago Opera Theater, the Apollo Chorus and various community theater and music organizations. The Tower Chorale has become recognized as one of the premier vocal musical groups in the area enjoyed by over 1,500 patrons each concert season.
In November 2010 a search committee was formed to seek a new Music Director to succeed Mr. James Winfield as Mr. Winfield notified the Board that he would be retiring in June 2011. The application process consisted of four rounds: initial screening of applications, review of directing style and work samples, face to face interview and an audition directing a short rehearsal with the singers. From the three finalists, Mr. Patrick Godon was selected as the Tower Chorale’s new Music Director for the 2011–2012 season.
The purpose of the group is to offer the opportunity for choral music enjoyment and growth in an environment of fellowship, by means of a variety of secular and sacred musical experiences, providing an entertainment and artistic resource for the community and satisfaction for the performers.
The vision of the Tower Chorale has been to grow in its popularity with audiences and singers in order to sustain itself for the foreseeable future; to be regarded by its audience as an enjoyable and inspiring group to hear and by its members as a rewarding group with which to sing; to foster and broaden community appreciation for, and involvement in, the performing arts.
The Tower Chorale performs at a variety of concert sites around the local western suburban areas and includes three highly diversified concerts per year: 1) holiday concerts in December – sacred and secular music for the season accompanied by an instrumental ensemble and with a guest musical group, usually young people; 2) a “formal” concert in March of a traditional oratorio or other such work or works with professional soloists, usually accompanied by full orchestra; and, 3) a concert in May, with music ranging from Broadway to Hollywood, folk songs and world music, the “Great American Song Book” to pop music and rock ‘n roll.
In May 2009, the Tower Chorale was invited along with several other choral groups to perform at Carnegie Hall. Members present from the Tower Chorale were: J-nett Asa, Murnie Baker, Carol Blatter, Judy Concklin, Linda Dukes, Jean Harrison, and Dorothy Stephan. Singing at Carnegie Hall was an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime experience.
The Tower Chorale and other choral groups were originally invited to perform at Carnegie Hall in a New Music program featuring K. Lee Scott’s “Requiem.” Previously, the composer had come up from Alabama to hear the Tower Chorale perform his great work under the direction of Jim Winfield in March of 2008.
Unfortunately, due to various factors and a lack of awareness of Mr. Scott’s beautiful work, the program was changed to the Fauré “Requiem” paired with a better-known work, John Rutter’s “Magnificat.” Any disappointment quickly dissipated when it was announced that Rutter would be conducting his own work.
Rehearsals were conducted most of Saturday, Sunday and part of Monday before the actual performance on Memorial Monday evening. There was so much to learn about singing and vocal expression, as top-notch professionals made the approximately 160 amateur singers sound far better than their best. During rehearsals and also in performance, the impish and elfin John Rutter cleverly cultivated a deep understanding of the exciting and brilliantly simple freshness of his work.
J-nett Asa recalls, “Walking into the legendary concert hall for dress rehearsal was highly emotional for me. So many greats had shown their art to the world in the place where I stood. I coughed just to hear myself. An indescribably pristine and phenomenal sound sang back to me. I was surprised at the minimal décor of the Isaac Stern Auditorium, with its basic sophistication unchanged since 1891. This quiet elegance only added to the thrill when the lights went down on a nearly full house of about 2700 people (including members of my family). Apparently the audience was as enchanted as I was that night – we got a standing ovation! Rutter’s “Magnificat” was truly magnificent!”
In March 2013, a number of Tower Chorale members joined the choir from St. Gregory the Great Church in Chicago for a 10-day pilgrimage to Italy. Patrick Godon, Director of Music for both groups, conducted. Tower Chorale members included Murnie Baker, Cynthia Blaszak, Marty & Kathy Daley, Roger Dore & Ellen Peirce, Linda Dukes, Paul Greene, Peter & Jean Harrison, John Kulaga, Larry & Mary LaPalio, Tom Licar, Diane Muss, John & Diana Myhre, Mary Beth Niziol, Betsy Spiering, Ellen Spiering, Jim Reid, Don Robbins, Byron & Nanette Shinn, Bill Somers, Bill & Barbara Stratton, Marvin Taylor, and Wayne VerGowe. The group was invited to be the Principal Choir to sing at the Vatican for the 500th anniversary of the founding of the Cappella Giulia, the Musical Chapel Choir of St. Peter’s. This trip coincided, incidentally, with the election of the new pope, Pope Francis, of whom the choir caught a glimpse in his first public appearance after the election. A high point was the tour of Pompeii where the group sang “Deep Peace” at an outdoor amphitheater in memory of all the souls that lost their lives in the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius.
One of the choir masses was at the magnificent Cathedral of Naples, San Gennaro. The pastor’s name was Padre Papa – Father Pope. Perhaps an omen that a new pope was imminent! Just before the end of the mass, Padre Papa called for applause for the choir, maestro Peterson and maestro Godon to affirm their efforts. He ended by inviting the choir to sing a concert on their next visit to Napoli. He was visibly pleased and even posed in a picture with the group at the end. He was elaborate and generous with his praise of the choir’s singing — so much so, that one of our basses said he was so choked up he couldn’t sing the beginning of the last song. Our tour manager, Rita Felici, would later tell Patrick that this priest was “open-arms” once he heard the group sing, but when they asked permission earlier if the choir could do a concert there, he had said no. He changed his tune, so this also became a conversion tour!
On their way to their first Italian concert at the Church of Gesu Nuovo in Naples, the bus driver suddenly turned up the radio and thousands of people were cheering. Rita came on the microphone and announced, “We have a new pope!” It was an amazing time to be in Italy. The choir dedicated their concert to the new pope and the whole evening was electric. It was raining, but a good number of Neapolitans attended the concert. The choir’s last two songs were dedicated to a young man who was killed in a car accident exactly one year earlier, adding another layer of meaning to the performance. Many of his family members were in attendance. The choir sounded wonderful from beginning to end. The crowd went wild after the spiritual, “My Soul’s Been Anchored,” giving a standing ovation.
The group also toured Sorrento, Capri, the Amalfi Coast, Montecassino (a 5th century abbey), Mentorella, and sang at numerous beautiful churches along the way. Once in Rome, the choir sang at the four major basilicas, all magnificent: St. Mary Major’s, St. John Lateran, St. Paul’s Outside the Walls, and culminating with the moving service at St. Peter’s Basilica celebrating the 500th anniversary of the Cappella Giulia.
Patrick Godon began his tenure at the Tower Chorale in July of 2011. Mr. Godon has held many top-level posts in music. For 15 years he was Director of Music at St. Gregory the Great Church in Chicago. Since 2018, he has been Organist/Choirmaster at the Church of the Holy Spirit in Lake Forest, IL. In 2006, he founded the International Chamber Artists (ICA), a Chicago-based chamber music ensemble of classically trained musicians. He performs regularly with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra as acting principal keyboardist. He also performs with the CSO’s MusicNOW ensemble, the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, the Delaware Symphony Orchestra, and regularly on 98.7 WFMT. Mr. Godon holds the degree of Master of Music in Piano Performance from DePaul University.
James Winfield served as founder and director of the Tower Chorale for 25 seasons, retiring in June 2011. He brought a wealth of professional experience to the group. He sang in the Chicago Symphony Chorus for seven years and served as Associate Director of that ensemble for eight years under its founder, Margaret Hillis. He spent another eight years as music director of the West Suburban Symphony Orchestra of Hinsdale and has had several choral and instrumental arrangements published. He served as Music Director and Organist of the First Congregational Churches of Western Springs and Elmhurst for a total of 41 years, and, since 1999, in the same capacity at the Oak Park Temple B’nai Abraham Zion. Mr. Winfield holds music degrees from Indiana University and Northwestern University.