Jim and Kay Mabie

Barbara Levin

Jim and Kay Mabie have been involved with the CSO for more than thirty years. Jim was elected to the Board of Trustees in 1995, became a life trustee in 2007, has served as a past vice chair of the Board, and currently serves as the chairman of the Finance Committee. Kay joined The League of the CSO (the former Women’s Association) in 1999. Together, they chaired the CSO Opening Night Gala in 2001. They are thirty-one year subscribers and have sponsored appearances of the Chorus over the last two decades. In 2005, the Mabies received the Chorus America Philanthropic Award for their generous support and advocacy for the Chicago Symphony Chorus.

What does the 60th anniversary of the Chorus mean to you?
The Chicago Symphony Chorus has lasted sixty years because it’s terrific, and it deserves to continue as long as it possibly can. It’s a force of nature, really—a phenomenon of the music world and important to the city.

What inspires your love of the Chorus and choral music?
The human voice is the greatest of all instruments. No other instrument has its range or unique capability to express emotion. Traditional instruments are at their best when they emulate that expression, when they’re played with the feeling of a human voice. It’s always amazing to hear the full Chorus perform. They create a single instrument, one voice out of many. Their flexibility is incredible and part of the wonder of the human voice.

Do you have a favorite type of choral music?
For us, sacred choral music expresses a range of emotion not often found in other types of music. It comes at emotional times in life: death and birth and resurrection. Many operas showcase similar emotions too, but the intensity is communicated most powerfully when referencing those religious themes. The words become very important in liturgical music, and the music emphasizes their emotional power.

What performances are you most looking forward to during the Chorus’s 60th anniversary?
We’re Chicago Symphony Chorus fanatics—we like it all! We find ourselves most drawn to liturgical music, but we relish all of the choral programs. The non-liturgical pieces are beautiful in their own right; they just tell a different kind of story. We’re really looking forward to Daphnis and Chloe. There’s a lightness about it, a joyfulness that is hard to beat. The Schubert Mass led by Riccardo Muti will be a great concert, and Rossini’s Stabat Mater will certainly be a highlight of the season. We’re glad to see the French sacred masterworks program start off the season in early October. It will introduce many fans of the Chorus to pieces they may not know well. It’s nice to attract people to new music and new musical ideas, different expressions of how composers have used the voice.

What are some of your early memories of the CSO?
We began coming to the CSO together and got our first subscription when we saw an ad in the Tribune in the early 1960s for a series of concerts for people who didn’t know much about classical music. We really got to know each other accompanied by classical music while on dates to the symphony. We don’t remember what our first CSO concert together was, but this has been a joint venture all the way. Today, we watch the Chorus concerts on the Main Floor, but when the Chorus isn’t there, we sometimes sit in the Terrace where they usually perform. It’s always fascinating to watch the conductors from the Terrace, and we love watching the percussion section.

What have been some of your favorite Chorus concerts?
The season finale concert of 2017 was the biggest chorus we’ve ever seen. With the Chicago Symphony Chorus and the Chicago Children’s Choir, singers filled the entire Terrace. We know it takes a lot to put on those concerts with full orchestra and chorus. It was a real blockbuster. Bach’s B Minor Mass in 2013 is also a favorite of ours. But really, picking a favorite is like asking to pick a favorite child. All the performances, all the repertoire, they touch us in different ways, show different parts of the voice and the emotional potential of the voice. It’s all terrific.

How have you seen the Chorus grow and change over time?
The longevity of Duain Wolfe has had an immense impact. You have the same skillful person making incremental improvements to the ensemble over time. We’ve really been able to see the Chorus grow under him. They trust him so much, and he trusts the musicians. Duain does a great job of preparing the Chorus for each conductor and each piece, each with its own style and demands. The Chorus can give every piece what it needs, and satisfy every conductor that leads them.

What inspires your ongoing support of the Chicago Symphony Chorus?
Singing is something everyone can do and has done, from the shower to the concert hall. It’s a universal art form of human expression that everyone can connect with. We support the Chorus so that the beauty of the sound may be maintained. The level of excellence is unique, and this excellence deeply impacts people. We enjoy it and want others be able to do so. We hope others will follow in our footsteps to ensure its future success. It can’t just survive—it has to thrive!