Bienen students play benefit concert for Chicago community center

Ava Wallace

Bienen senior Jessica Sun said she wanted to break barriers between Chicago and Northwestern when she planned a NU-based benefit symphony concert for a church-related organization in North Lawndale, a community on Chicago’s West Side.

“Here, especially in Evanston, we are so wrapped up in our own experience and because of that we do not have perspective on reality,” the violin performance major said. “It was really just a chance for both worlds to get a taste of each other – it was about the exposure.”

Sunday, along with Bienen senior Christopher Kim, collaborated with NU students from the Chicago Urban Program to put together a benefit concert Sunday evening in Garrett Chapel. Fifty-two NU students volunteered to play in the symphony, and proceeds from the concert will go to The Firehouse, a community arts center that serves youth in North Lawndale.

In addition to exposing NU students to unfamiliar communities, Sun also wanted to bring classical music to a larger audience.

“I’m personally wondering how to bring classical music back to the common man – it’s gotten to the point where people can’t relate to it anymore,” Sun said. “But where that music comes from – there are so many issues related to social justice.”

Sun wanted to host a benefit concert at NU after she and Kim planned a similar event this summer in North Carolina. Sun found the Firehouse program through friends who work with CUP.

Pastor Phil Jackson is the president of The House Development Corporation and the founder of The Firehouse, which was born out of a union between the Development Corporation and the Lawndale Community Church.

The overall mission of The Firehouse is to offer the youth in North Lawndale, a predominately African-American and Latino community that has traditionally struggled with issues such as poverty, the chance to challenge prejudices, Jackson said.

The Corporation bought an abandoned fire station in Lawndale in 2007 with the hopes of constructing a facility with multiple different arts and media studios available to young people in North Lawndale.

The Firehouse founder said he was humbled when Sun approached him with a proposal for a benefit event, but pleased to be able to spread his organization’s message.

“Any time there’s an opportunity created for us to expose folks to the power of these kids and begin to alter perspectives – whether we raise a dollar or no – it’s all about getting rid of prejudice,” he said.

Moreover, Jackson said he agreed with Sun’s idea of the connection between social justice and music – the pastor holds a hip-hop centered worship service on Saturday nights.

“When you look at the history of those who wrote these songs – some of the stuff they faced,” Jackson said, “the pain and suffering coexists with our message of social empowerment that comes from a place of pain and abandonment.”

Both Sun and Jackson kicked off the event with a few words about transcendence in respect to music and breaking social boundaries.

Throughout the two-hour event, the orchestra played Felix Mendelssohn’s “Overture to a Midsummer Night’s Dream” and Beethoven’s Symphony No.8 in F Major. Bienen Prof. Almita Vamos joined the students for a selection of Max Bruch pieces just before intermission.

Additionally, CUP participants Jazzy Johnson, Kun Chen and William Weber shared stories from their personal experiences in working in what Weber called “broken communities.” Firehouse student Yahtzeni Gonzallez and Firehouse teacher Phenom also performed poetry.

Though few NU students saw the concert – the small crowd was mainly made up of families – Weinberg senior Kathryn Choi said more students should attend similar events.

“More Northwestern students should come to things like these,” she said. “Not only to support your peers but also to see the different ways that people express their compassionate and creative sides.”

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