Monday, May 12, 2008

Bach's Coffee Cantata @ The University of Chicago

Coffee Cantata by The University of Chicago Cantata Collegium
Directed by Stephen Raskauskas
The University of Chicago
May 10, 2008


This past weekend I traveled back to the University of Chicago to see the final performance of Bach's Coffee Cantata, directed by my good friend Stephen Raskauskas.

Stephen and I were sitting in the lobby of the Smart Museum of Art about a year and half ago drinking heavily caffeinated espresso drinks before our shifts. I had recently graduated from the University of Chicago and was working the summer before moving to New York City. It was to be the day the Coffee Cantata found its wings.

Stephen told me he was horribly, unconsolably depressed. I asked him, why? What could prompt such utter lowliness of spirit in someone I knew to be both imaginative and hard working? Well, he told me, he had this wonderful, passionate idea for his B.A. project. He wanted to make an opera. He had all the pieces. He knew singers who had already voiced their interest to be a part of a production. He knew musicians talented enough to perform the piece. He knew set designers and costumer makers. He even worked at the Lyric Opera in Chicago where he could research the period of the piece and ask for suggestions and guidance on how to put the production together. So, again, I asked him what was getting him down. Afterall, it seemed that he should be very happy, very motivated to make this production happen since he everything he needed. Not everything, he said. I don't have the money. Well, I said, how much do you need?

I had served on the Student Fine Arts Fund my senior year. The Student Fine Arts Fund gave away $1,500 every quarter to student art projects. Stephen could easily have won the Student Fine Arts Fund grant money, but it wasn't enough. He needed at least $5,000 to make the production acceptable to his standards. The Student Fine Arts Fund was the daughter grant for the UChicago Arts Grant, which gave away in upwards of $10,000 each year to student art projects, particularly those that incorporate the talents of many people and show a strong sense of research, craft and collaboration. Stephen's opera was a perfect match, which I promptly informed him of.

I gave Stephen the web address for the grant information and application. I gave him the name of several administrators in the University that I knew to be affiliated with the grant committee. I gave him a list of tasks he would need to do at least half of if he wanted to have a real chance at getting this money, such as getting people to officially sign onto the project, making detailed and itemized budgets for each and every aspect of the production, and finding a faculty member (preferably from the music department) to act as the production's faculty advisor.

Knowing Stephen to be an ambitious and hardworking person, I reasoned these tasks would be completed by the end of summer, allowing several weeks at the beginning of the quarter to write and submit the grant application. When Stephen called me a little over a week later and told me that not only had he done everything I recommended, but that he also had second appointments and official planning meetings with some of the highest members of the school's administration, I knew then how awesome the production would be.

And awesome it was indeed! Congratulations were handed out. Hugs and blessings of every kind erupted at the end of the performances. Humble, as always, Stephen's only words about the production were: I just wanted people to laugh, Karlynn. I wanted them to smile, and be happy.



You can read more about the Cantata Collegium and it's production of the Coffee Cantata on the web: Cantata Collegium presents The Coffee Cantata (Blog)

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