The Power of Collaboration

by Samantha Foster

Teamwork is alive and well within some of central Illinois’ premier musical groups.

I guess you could say that seeking out collaborations—or accepting collaborative invitations when they arise—is in our DNA,” says Dr. Joseph Henry, artistic director of the Peoria Area Civic Chorale. This spring, the PACC will do both. With nearly 80 members representing some four dozen cities across central Illinois—and past partnerships with the Peoria Symphony Orchestra, Peoria Ballet and Heritage Ensemble, among others—the singing ensemble knows a thing or two about group efforts.

Big Band Meets Big Choir
This May, the Central Illinois Jazz Orchestra (CIJO) will accompany the PACC at its annual spring concert, Swing Into Spring, at Five Points Washington. Featuring two hours of songs from the swing era of the 1930s and ‘40s—including “Chattanooga Choo Choo,” “I’ve Got a Gal in Kalamazoo,” “Moonlight Serenade” and more—it’s a walk down memory lane that may well have audience members doing the Jitterbug or Lindy Hop in the aisles!

“The collaboration… marks somewhat of a reprise of a collaborative performance I conducted at the Peoria Civic Center Theater in 2006,” explains Dr. Henry. “[It] was extremely well received.” The PACC would not typically program big band music with only piano, bass and percussion as accompaniment, he notes, so the performance also opens up new territory to explore.

“It gives a fresh angle for both groups and challenges each group musically as well,” adds trombonist Carl Anderson, who cofounded the CIJO in 1998. “They have the opportunity to be backed up by some of the best jazz musicians in central Illinois. We get to have a vocal component that we usually do not experience.”

Given the high caliber of talents involved, preparations are running smoothly, with both groups working independently before coming together for rehearsal the final week. As the PACC’s long-time instrumental contractor, Anderson is well versed in its rehearsal and performance procedures.

“Balance is usually the most challenging thing,” he notes. “While there are only 16 of us, we can put out a pretty formidable wall of sound. So, we have to be respectful of the whole musical architecture. It has to be a cohesive experience for the audience, allowing the musicians the personal artistic expression characteristic of jazz, while still performing as a single musical ensemble.”

Concert of Contrasts
On the heels of its collaboration with CIJO, the PACC will join the Heartland Festival Orchestra (HFO) on the same stage for a season-ending “concert of contrasts.” The June performance will kick off with Antonin Dvorak’s high-energy Carnival Overture, followed by Arvo Pärt’s Fratres, a serene meditation for strings, and culminate with a rousing performance of Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana. One of the world’s best-loved symphonic choral works, Carmina Burana is “a spectacular blend of powerful rhythms, technicolor orchestral effects, earthy lyrics and amazing solo vocals,” says HFO Artistic Director David Commanday.

Plans for the joint performance began nearly a year ago at Commanday’s invitation. “When I first planned to conclude [our] seventh season with Carmina Burana, I immediately thought of inviting the PACC to sing,” he notes. “I have enjoyed many past collaborations with [them]… and I knew I could count on having a fine chorus, expertly trained.

“It is always wonderful to add the human voice as an element to our concerts,” he continues. “All music has its roots in singing… combining chorus and orchestra creates an even more powerfully expressive ensemble.”

The HFO is no stranger to partnerships either. Not only are most of its performances collaborative efforts, each raises money for a different community organization. (Proceeds from the June performance will go to the Heartland Community Health Clinic.) In addition, Dr. Henry plans to augment the PACC with 45 additional singers. “With a full orchestra and a 120-voice choir, I suspect there won’t be much free space on the stage!” he exclaims.

Collaboration is Key
From artistic satisfaction to cross-marketing, collaboration offers a myriad of benefits to all involved. “It’s always a pleasure to join forces with other performing ensembles that also approach the art of music-making with an eye toward quality,” Dr. Henry notes. It also works to build community, one of the PACC’s organizational values. “In the end, it’s the community that benefits from programming that could not be offered by one of the ensembles by itself.” a&s

Swing Into Spring takes place May 6-8, 2016 at Five Points Washington—visit or call (309) 693-6725 for details. Carmina Burana takes place on June 4, 2016 at Five Points Washington—call (309) 339-3943 or visit