Apostolic Church of God prepares to welcome back the CSO & Riccardo Muti

Dr. Byron Brazier, pastor of the Apostolic Church of God, offers introductory remarks before a community concert there featuring the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, with Riccardo Muti, in 2016.

Todd Rosenberg Photography

This month, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Music Director Riccardo Muti will present two special community concerts, including one Jan. 28 at the historic Apostolic Church of God, 6320 S. Dorchester, in Chicago's Woodlawn neighborhood.

Founded in 1931, Apostolic has a history of providing cultural and fine arts experiences for its members and surrounding neighborhood, as a way of enriching the community in its own space. Muti and the CSO previously performed at the church in 2011 and again in 2016. (The free concert Jan. 28 begins at 7 p.m. Ticket reservations, available at cso.org, are recommended but not required.)

Dr. Byron Brazier, the pastor of the Apostolic, shared his thoughts about the upcoming concert and the relationship his church has had with CSO, which was established with the aim of bringing the arts to this iconic institution.

In the early 2000s, his parents, Arthur and Isabelle, began a stringed-instruments program to get Apostolic members interested in the arts. "My parents had a vision for the creativity of the arts," he said. "We had already invested in sports programs for our young people and decided that a string program would also benefit them. The CSO was the first funder for that program.”

Brazier reflected on the two times that Maestro Muti conducted concerts at Apostolic. "In both cases, the sanctuary, which seats 3,000 people, was filled with members and folks from across the city," he said. "The diversity of the Chicago population was in attendance.” 

The pastor was so impressed by the experience that he took up the bassoon and noticed that other members who had played instruments in their younger days did the same. “This created a renaissance of older players taking up their instruments."

Haley Smith, the administrative director of Apostolic’s Youth Orchestra, has come full circle, as she started out in the ensemble more than 15 years ago as a student. The orchestra consists of members between the ages of 6 and 18.

Smith, who plays the flute, has been a member of Apostolic all her life and appreciates the church's arts programs and the impact that they have had on her, as well as other members who have attended the concerts.

“We look forward to these concerts, which also give a chance for aspiring admirers of music to better understand classical music," Smith said. “We have musicians that grew up in the program, and if they didn’t become professional musicians, they became doctors, lawyers, entrepreneurs and had a sense of belonging.”

The Betson children (from left, Charis, Victor and Emmanuel Jr., here with their parents, Emmanuel Sr. and Jem) perform in the youth orchestra of the Apostolic Church of God.

Courtesy of the family

She added: “Of course, we love our church music, but Muti’s concerts give the church community and others a well-rounded variety of music.”

The three siblings in the Betson family have been in Apostolic's orchestra for a while, and they shared some insights about their love for classical music and the positive effects of the arts.

Charis, who is 12, plays the viola and the cello. She has been in the Apostolic orchestra for eight years. “The best part of being in the orchestra is coming together to play music,” she said. “I am really extroverted, and I love being around people. It is definitely a maturing thing, and it has shaped me as I have grown up.” Of the upcoming CSO concert, she said: “It is all about uniting people with music and spreading music for others to hear.”

Victor, her 14-year-old brother, plays the viola and steel-pan drums. He explained that there is a marked difference between the sounds of the steel pan and a usual drum kit — and the two shouldn’t be confused. Of participating in the AYO, Victor said, “It allows me to be creative.”

And there’s 16-year-old Emmanuel, who also plays the viola, even though he thinks the violin has “prettier” notes. He has been playing since he was in kindergarten and said, “The sound ranges within the viola are something that you don’t hear with other instruments.” AYO has been a big part of his life as well: “All around, it gives you a good chance to connect with other people and talk about music.”

Finally, Brazier noted his church’s longevity. “We are a church of five generations who are still members of the church,” he said. “I am not just the pastor of the living but of the unborn. All that we do now is for the generations that participate and to invest in future generations. Our mission is to create a place where people can grow both spiritually and naturally.”

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