The Sibelius Male Chorus Celebrates 80 years
The Sibelius Club of Chicago, as it was then known, had its first concert on March 18, 1934. When it was formed in 1933, a letter was written to Jean Sibelius seeking permission to use his name. A response from the world-renowned composer, dated November 4, 1933, stated “...I feel honored to give my consent to the request of the Sibelius Club of Chicago.” The Sibelius Male Chorus (SMC) is understandably proud of the privilege of bearing the name of this great musical genius, as well as the friendship and association it has had with such a man.
The musical excellence of The Sibelius Club immediately emerged, when upon entering the Century of Progress World's Fair's choral competition, it was recognized as the most talented participating chorus.
For over eight decades the chorus has been an important contributor to the cultural life of the Finnish Community in Northern Illinois, the North American continent, and abroad, with appearances at religious functions, Independence Day celebrations, Finnish Male Singers of North America tours and festivals, 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 has been blessed by exceptionally talented choral directors since its inception: Edwin Karhu, a teacher at the Chicago Conservatory of Music, Arthur Kitti, an instructor at the Bush Conservatory of Music and Chicago Symphony Orchestra member, opera singer Francis Gilsdorf, and gifted violinist Ralph Harju, who 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 North 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.
But the story of The Sibelius Male Chorus goes beyond these facts to the hearts, souls, and voices of the members and directors who have been part of SMC over the years. The story of The Sibelius Male Chorus lies in the deep felt passion for music and art found in the bosoms of these men, and in the enthusiastic response they have received from their audiences for three quarters of a century.
The Finnish Male Singers of North America (Amerikan Laulajat) and its associated choirs congratulate The Sibelius Male Chorus of Chicago (SMC) on its 80th Anniversary. To have existed at such a grand level for so many years is an enormous tribute to the Chorus, its leaders and music. May you continue to prosper and delight audiences around the world.