History of the Niles Concert Choir and Niles Symphony Orchestra

From the City of Niles Archives

The Niles Concert Choir and Niles Symphony Orchestra were founded by Rev. Stanley Rudcki in 1964 and 1966. Rev. Rudcki was chairman of the Niles College Department of Fine Arts. These musical groups performed regularly at and were associated with Niles College. However, as the Niles Spectator wrote, they were also "an important part of musical life in Chicago." They frequently performed at Orchestra Hall, Holy Name Cathedral, and for college and university audiences for some 30 years. The chorus and symphony performed about 50 concerts per year.

The choir has traveled to Europe. In 1977 an Easter Mass was sung in a cathedral in Rome, run by English-speaking Paulist Fathers. The group sang in Germany and Spain over the next few years. Each year the groups would perform a major spring concert at Niles College and three other concerts during the year.

Rev. Rudcki often selected challenging and important works for his concerts. The Chicago premier of Ralph Vaughn Williams' "The Sea Symphony" was presented by the Niles Concert Choir and the Niles Symphony Orchestra in Holy Name Cathedral. Chicago audiences were also introduced to Benjamin Britten's "War Requiem" at Orchestra Hall in a concert performed by the Niles Symphony Orchestra. Guest soloists were Sarah Beatty of the Metropolitan Opera Company of New York and Bruse Schoonmaker, a graduate of Northwestern University School of Music who was on the music staff at the University of South Carolina. This free concert, as were most of the concerts given by the groups, was described as an "inspiring and monumental spiritual composition set to poems by Walt Whitman." Freel-will donations, The Musicians' Union Turst Fund, and Niles College provided necessary funding for the groups.

Students at Niles College were the nucleus of the concert choir. Other members included residents from Chicago and the northwest suburbs. The Niles Symphony was composed of professional musicians from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Lyric Opera Orchestra, and the Grant Park Orchestra. Rev. Rudcki handled all negotiations with musicians, undertook the arrangements of music, and conducted the performances.

Professional musicians were impressed by the orchestra and the response from the community. Donald Koss, a percussionist with the Chicago Symphony who played with the Niles Symphony, said that professional musicians were astonished with the complexity and difficulty of the programs the symhony and chorus performed. Koss was especially ethunsiastic about the performances in the Niles College gym:  "We found what they did in the gym to be an absolutely marvelous series of events. They would always pack the gym with local people from the neighborhood, most who had never heard a symphony orchestra."

After Niles College closed its campus, the Niles Concert Choir was reformed as a not-for-profit organization. An executive steering committee, selected by members, makes decisions. In December 1996, Rev. Rucki retired and Scott James Arkenberg became the music director of the Niles Concert Choir. The choir continues to sing throught the Chicago area and has established its home base at St. John Brebeuf Church in Niles.

Last Published: March 8, 2021 12:37 PM
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