Roosevelt University CCPA chorus performs with Rolling Stones

  • Dr. Cheryl Frazes Hill directs part of the Roosevelt University chorus on stage at the United Center with the Rolling Stones.
Dr. Cheryl Frazes Hill directs part of the Roosevelt University chorus…
June 05, 2013|By Adam Lukach, @lucheezy | RedEye

The Rolling Stones' "You Can't Always Get What You Want" has long been one of their most ubiquitous and oft-referenced, both for the philosophical convenience of its tagline and the English boys choir that glosses its opening measures. The song is a staple on tour as well, so when the Stones planned their most recent (and perhaps their last) tour, they needed choruses that could pull it off for each show. They also wanted them to be local to each show.

In Chicago, the Roosevelt University Chicago College of Performning Arts' Conservatory Chorus made both of those things happen.

"I believe [the president of the American Choral Directors Association] was approached for national recommendations for choirs," said Cheryl Frazes Hill, the director of choral activities at CCPA. "He would be the best person to know ... so they contacted us and asked if we would be interested ... we were enthusiastically embraced."

Embraced, at least, once the Stones had heard recordings of the choir's recent work. Frazes Hill said the CCPA then set about assembling a 24-person choir out of the 80 to 100 normal members based on availability, schedules and other variables. It started out as a secret that proved to be a far cry from their usual classical comfort zone.

"When they first told us what we were gonna do, everyone's jaws hit the floor," said Mariama Torruella, alumna and the assistant to the director of the CCPA. "People were going crazy."

They still had to keep that craziness private from everyone else, however, which Gabriel Di Gennaro, a CCPA alumnus, said was difficult. The performance had other challenges, too: the chorus had to mimic the accent and intonation of a young English boys' choir while still maintaining perfection. Both performers said their training had prepped them for the vocal gymnastics.

"We're used to signing very long pieces with difficult harmonies. This one is very simple and very easy, but that 's what makes it hard," he said. "It has to be perfect since we're miked. We're so exposed."

Frazes Hill estimated the group put in "a good 50 hours of work" for the eight minutes of singing they would provide the Stones. Those eight minutes served as the first encore in each of the three shows at the sold-out United Center, but Di Gennaro and Torruella said each one was different, and the latter two, with their jitters absent and the 20,000-plus-person crowd crazed, were the best.

"Once the lights come up, they know what you're going to sing," Di Gennaro said. "The crowd just erupted. It was the loudest thing I'd ever heard."

As for working with the Stones, they met and said they were "extremely nice people."

"To get a thumbs up and big smile from Keith Richards? I mean--" paused Torruella. "Pretty much the coolest thing ever."

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