Students and seniors create art inspired by CSO for Kids video

While the Negaunee Music Institute’s video “May There Always Be Sunshine” is billed as a CSO for Kids program, its hopeful message resonates with viewers of many ages. In response to the video, which premiered in January, students from Chicago-area schools and residents of local senior centers are reflecting on what brings them joy and sharing their own wishes.

Based on the book by Chicago musician and author Jim Gill, “May There Always Be Sunshine” features the eponymous song, performed by Gill with Chicago Symphony Chorus soprano Melinda Alberty and five brass musicians from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Since the book’s publication in 2001, Gill has encouraged readers to create their own artwork responding to the prompt, “May there always be …”. During the COVID-19 pandemic, he and his wife, Sue, began collecting artwork from readers and creating “video books,” which were posted on Gill’s YouTube channel.

After the CSO for Kids video premiered, Gill teamed up with the CSO’s Negaunee Music Institute and the League of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association to invite Chicago-area children and seniors to create their own artwork. In February, he led an online workshop with volunteers from the League, teachers and staff from senior centers to provide more background information about the song and book, encouraging them to launch artmaking projects with students and residents.

Five schools and five seniors centers — hailing from the city’s north, south and west sides and suburban Batavia, Cicero, Crete, Elmhurst and Oak Park — have participated this spring. “Our goal was to pair schools and senior centers that are geographically close, in the hope that students and residents can build relationships that will continue in the future,” says Katy Clusen, the Negaunee Music Institute’s manager of school and family programs. “During a time when people are feeling isolated, it’s especially important to foster a sense of community.”

Artists were encouraged to put their own spin on “May there always be …” submissions, whether in the form of drawings, embroidery, handwritten wishes or verbal responses. Residents of the Breakers at Edgewater Beach chose to paint watercolors, incorporating this artwork into a previously planned project of finding “silver linings” during a difficult season.

At Village Woods Assisted and Retirement Living in Crete, the project offered residents “a great time of reflection about the things that are most important to them,” says Life Enrichment Director Elyssia Roozeboom. “It gave us some time to be thankful.”

Rachel Milstein, a first-grade teacher at Liberty School in Cicero, collaborated with the school’s art teacher on the project and encouraged other teachers to join in with their classes. “When I showed the 'May There Always Be Sunshine' video to my class, they really enjoyed it,” Milstein says. A colleague who teaches second grade added that the “kids were really excited to participate.”

When all the artwork is ready, customized books will showcase participants’ creations. In addition, a new video will feature Gill, Alberty and CSO musicians performing a reprise of “May There Always Be Sunshine,” with lyrics inspired by the hopes and wishes of students and seniors.