Paul Gilkerson has been a CSO Overture Council member since serving as founding president of the organization in 2009. A Symphony Center concert attendee since the late 1990s, Paul recently relocated to London for his job in the financial sector. Paul holds undergraduate degrees in business and music from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and is an avid trumpet player.
How did you first connect to the CSO?
One of my earliest musical memories was attending a CSO holiday concert with my parents when I was five or six years old. My real connection started when I was a young trumpet player, and my junior high band director told me about [then CSO principal trumpet] “Bud” Herseth, who never missed a note. He made me a cassette tape of the CSO performing Mahler’s Fifth Symphony, and the rest is history.
What inspired your involvement in the Overture Council?
When I was in high school, my dream was to be principal trumpet of the CSO. In college, when I realized that might not be in the cards for me (still practicing my excerpts!), I knew I wanted to find other ways to be involved in the organization on a deep level. When I attended an Overture Council prelaunch event and met the CSO staff who would be nurturing the new organization, I knew it would be a perfect fit.
Now that you live abroad, what inspires your ongoing connection and commitment to the CSO?
Since leaving Chicago, I have spent a great deal of time traveling to new and unfamiliar places. One of my favorite things to do no matter where I am is to put on my headphones and fire up a CSO Mahler or Strauss (or Wagner or Bruckner…) recording that I have listened to a thousand times. It may sound clichéd, but it always brings me back to a happy, familiar, and joyous place, and reminds me of the people with whom I have shared so many incredible musical experiences.
How do you stay involved with the Orchestra?
In Chicago, I always enjoyed the pre- and postconcert receptions with CSO musicians and performers, as well as joint events with other young professionals’ organizations. Since moving to London, I was able to catch the CSO in Luxembourg during the January 2014 European tour. I am extremely excited to travel to Vienna this fall for the CSO’s weeklong residency at the Musikverein. Tours are always my favorite experience—everyone tends to let loose and have a little “off campus” fun.
What are your impressions of the Orchestra’s reputation overseas?
The CSO’s international reputation is, of course, stellar, and has been built up over many decades. I feel an incredible amount of pride when I get to share my CSO connections and experiences with people all over the world. I would say it is one of the most globally recognizable institutions of Chicago, right behind Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls!
Any advice for concert attendees looking to become more deeply involved?
In my experience, the way to get the most out of classical music—or any type of music—is to become involved outside of the concert experience. Pick up an instrument, get to know the performers, donate your time or money to the CSO, or volunteer with The Negaunee Music Institute and experience the joy of bringing music to others. The CSO is by far the most accessible cultural institution I have ever been involved with, and I think this is one of the secrets to its past and future success.
To learn more about the Overture Council, please contact Jessica Erickson, senior donor engagement manager, at 312-294-3198.