A world-premiere farewell for retiring COD choral director Lee Kesselman

The curtain is coming down on music-making for Lee R. Kesselman at the College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn.

Kesselman is retiring as the college's director of choral activities, a job he's had since 1981. He also has served as the director of the DuPage Chorale, a community chorus in residence at the school's McAninch Arts Center.

"I'm in the process of cleaning out an office with 41 years of clutter in it," Kesselman said. "So, I'm surrounded by the past every time I pick up a piece of paper."

Kesselman is understandably reflective about his time teaching and conducting the sheer number of students and community singers across four decades.

He also had the daunting task of programming his exit concerts.

Kesselman's final performance as a full-time employee is leading the College of DuPage's Chamber Singers & Concert Choir at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, May 5. But it's his penultimate concert, titled "Lee's Last Bash!" and featuring the DuPage Chorale at 7:30 p.m. Sunday, May 1, that is drawing more attention because it includes a world premiere.

"Remember Us" is a choral work by Kesselman featuring what is billed as "the unheard voices of our American past and present."

The texts are drawn from a number of different sources, including Harlem Renaissance poets of the 1920s and Chicago AIDS patients from the 1980s.

"Each of these poems I've picked either speaks to the nature of 'the American dream' or speaks to the nature of people who haven't been quite included," Kesselman said.

Kesselman also had two major reasons for featuring excerpts from correspondence between the early American couple of Abigail and John Adams, written while John was away at the Constitutional Convention. One was her reminder to her husband to not forget women in drafting the framework for American governance.

The other had to do with the fact that Kesselman originally composed "Remember Us" as part of a two-year interdisciplinary commission for Vernon Hills High School. The school has a treble choir for soprano and alto voices, so Kesselman felt this ensemble was the best fit to sing the message of Abigail Adams.

The Vernon Hills High School world premiere of "Remember Us" was set for March 2020. But the global COVID-19 pandemic put a stop to that.

"We got close, but we didn't make it to the finish line on that one," said Kesselman, adding that the world premiere of "Remember Me" shifted to the DuPage Chorale.

Also on the bill for "Lee's Last Bash!" is Mozart's Requiem Mass. This work is a family affair since soprano Lindsay Kesselman - the conductor's grown daughter - is among the four guest operatic soloists.

"(Lindsay) grew up, really, backstage at this place," Kesselman said. "I don't bring in family members very often, but it seemed like for the last concert, that wasn't a bad choice. It will give us something to share."

Lee R. Kesselman
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