History of the Sibelius Male Chorus


The Sibelius Club of Chicago, as it was then known, had its first concert on March 18, 1934.  When it was formed in 1933, Mr. Frank Nelson wrote to Jean Sibelius seeking permission to use his name.  A letter was received from the world-renowned composer dated November 4, 1933 in which he stated “...I feel honored to give my consent to the request of the Sibelius Club of Chicago.”


The Sibelius Male Chorus is understandably proud of the privilege of bearing the name of this great musical genius and of the friendship and association it has had with such a man.


The Sibelius Club entered the competition at the Century of Progress World’s Fair and was recognized as the most talented of the choruses that participated.


The chorus has been an important contributor to the cultural life of the Finnish Community in Northern Illinois for many decades with appearances at religious functions, Finnish Independence Day celebrations, and other occasions where Finnish representation has been requested.  In recent years the chorus has participated in programs scheduled by the League of Finnish American Societies


The Sibelius Male Chorus (SMC) has been fortunate to have had able choral directors since its inception.  The first director and founding father was Edwin Karhu who was a teacher of piano at the Chicago Conservatory of Music.  He left the Chicago area for a position at the University of Oklahoma, returning in 1947 to directed the chorus for one more year.


Arthur Kitti, an instructor of music theory and harmony at the Bush Conservatory of music and a flutist with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, served as director of the SMC during the Second World War, after which he left to join the staff at Suomi College.  Mr Kitti did come back in 1952 to directed for another season.


Following Edwin Karhu's second departure, Francis Gilsdorf, a member of the St. Paul Civic Opera, The Midwest and Universal Opera Companies and the Chicago Opera Guild, assumed directorship of the SMC.


Ralph Harju, a violin soloist for The Sibelius Chorus concerts, became director in 1953.  During his tenure the chorus began to extending it's program beyond the boundaries of Illinois.  The chorus presented concerts in Duluth, Detroit, as well as cities in Wisconsin and Upper Michigan.  In 1956, Mr. Harju also served as a director on the first (Finland) tour of the Finnish Male Singers of North America.


Director Cantus Warren Polston captained the Sibelius Male Chorus of Chicago from 1963 until his untimely death in 2005.  The longest tenure of SMC directors.  During this period, Warren shared the Finnish Male Singers of America's director's podium on five concert tours of Finland.


The Chicago Chorus is currently lead by Eric Aho.


SMC has maintained a very close relationship with the Chicago area Estonian community.  Estonian House, the Estonian community-cultural center, is used by SMC for rehearsals, concerts, and social gatherings.  Estonian singers have long been part of SMC, joining them during local concerts and Finland tours.  Concert music is presented in Finnish, English, and Estonian.  Recently SMC has also taken part in the Normennenes Festival of Song presented at the Chicago Scandinavian Club.