Calisch Award winner has long artistic resume
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A glossy, black grand piano takes up half of the small front room in Chelsie Coren's Wheeling home.
It's not there for decoration. Chelsie's parents bought it eight years ago to replace her electric keyboard after they realized their 10-year-old was unusually talented.
Now 17 and a recent Wheeling High School graduate, Coren smiles and quietly says, "Thanks," when complimented on the five-minute recital piece she fluidly plays from memory.
She's a modest teenager, considering what the four-instrument musician, dancer, choreographer and honors student has accomplished in the past four years.
"Chelsie Coren could walk into any high school dance program, any jazz program, any orchestra program and run it," said Brian Logan, fine arts coordinator and director of bands at Wheeling High School. "She's mature beyond her years."
This is why, Logan says, Chelsie received the Richard W. Calisch Arts Unlimited Award. The annual award is given to the student in Northwest Suburban High School District 214 who best demonstrates excellence in the arts.
Chelsie began building her arts resume when she was 3 and her parents signed her up for ballet. She joined the band in fourth grade, and by middle school she had been playing piano for three years and clarinet for two. In 8th grade, she was chosen to play in the Illinois Music Educators Association's honors middle school band.
But Wheeling High School, recognized nationally for its fine arts program, was a new playing field. So she was surprised when Logan, the band director, decided to send her as a freshman to audition for the IMEA District VII Honors Band to give her audition experience.
Logan told her, "I want you to take this seriously, but you probably won't make it." That drove her to practice harder, she said.
"I was out to prove him wrong," Chelsie said. And she did. Her junior and senior year, she moved up to the All-State Honors Band.
She learned to play saxophone in seventh grade and joined the jazz band in eighth grade. She picked up flute her senior year in high school.
Sophomore year, Chelsie started playing clarinet in the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra's concert orchestra, one of the most difficult programs to get into, said Brian Baxter, the group's director of operations. Chelsie also continued private piano lessons and joined Orchesis. The piece she choreographed for the dance team was chosen for the state-level festival.
The successes were piling up but so were the time commitments.
"Last year was a crazy year for me," Chelsie said of her junior year, laughing.
Both Chelsie's Orchesis team and school band were selected for state and national festivals. She traveled to Philadelphia for the dance nationals and Indianapolis for band.
Rehearsals before these trips often kept Chelsie at school until 9 p.m. She'd get home, eat dinner and spend the rest of her evenings studying for the ACT college placement test, her honors classes and her Advanced Placement courses. It's fair to say she did fine, earning a 33 out of 36 on her ACT.
The load eased up her senior year. But the band made state, and she still took piano lessons. In fact, she was hired to play piano for the school musical — a spot usually filled by a professional, Logan said.
She also spent Saturday mornings teaching piano and clarinet to elementary school-age children.
And there was jazz band. Before one of her recitals this past November, Chelsie checked her email to see if the admissions office at University of Chicago had made decisions.
"She comes downstairs with this look," said Lourdes Coren, her mother. "I said, 'It's fine if you didn't get in. It's not a big deal.' And she's like, 'No, mom, I got in!'"
Chelsie said her parents kept her sane through it all. But they throw the credit back to her.
"She has this uncanny ability to juggle a lot at once," her mother said.
Chelsie's parents said after years of competitive sports — hockey with their now 25-year-old son, Andrew, and cross-country with 26-year-old daughter, Alison — the noncompetitive aspect of music and dance was refreshing. Chelsie said she doesn't like competition, a reason she was attracted to the arts, where many of the events were noncompetitive showcases.
As she and her parents watch old dance performances on a warm summer evening, it's apparent that her whirlwind life in the arts is finished for the moment. School is over, and her final piano recital was Wednesday night.
But this is just a break.
Chelsie said she wants to at least minor — if not double major — in music at the University of Chicago. She hopes to join a student-led dance group and would like to play in the pit orchestra for a city musical.
"I've always done music my whole life, so anything else seems out of the question," she says.
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