It was literally standing room only inside Room 104, the largest meeting space in the Garfield Park Golden Dome Fieldhouse, 100 N. Central Park Ave., on Dec. 8 as the crowd streamed in to hear the Westside Instrumental String and Harp (WISH) Program recital. 

More than 110 people showed up — so many that there simply weren’t enough chairs to seat them all, forcing about 20 people to stand by the wall.

“As you can see, we’ve outgrown our space,” said Howard Sandifer, the executive director of Chicago West Community Music Center, which includes the WISH program. “If you have any suggestions, let me know.”

WISH teaches kids, ages 7 to 12, how to play violin, viola, cello, guitar, piano and harp. All but the guitar playing was on display during the recital as students who started recently and students who have been in the program for a while showed what they’ve been learning. 

Sandifer said that the classes take place on Saturdays, with the fall session running from September to December. He said that, while most students started in September, some started later, so a few of the kids at the recital had only been playing an instrument for a few weeks.

The recital started with students giving piano solos, followed by harp players. The cello and violin classes of various levels then performed, with each class performing a few songs. The recital concluded with all students performing holiday staples like “Jingle Bells” and “Silent Night.” 

Jasney Biggs was one of the many parents who came to see their children perform. She said her 7-year-old daughter played viola. 

“[Being in WISH taught her] patience,” she said. “Just teaching her patience at seven years, and just teaching her to be patient and keep practicing, because practice does pay off.” 

Sheila Jones, the director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s African American Network, didn’t even try to hide her enthusiasm, cheering loudly after every solo and every song and praising the kids’ talents. 

“This program represents the best the city can offer,” Jones said. “It is essential and needed for all communities. That is why Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s African American Network is a big supporter of this program.”

She said that she appreciated that smaller kids who were just starting out got opportunities to perform with the older kids, and she was impressed that there were several kids playing cello and harp.

 And Jones appreciated that the program was a mix of classic Christmas carols, transitional English-language songs and pieces from other countries. 

“I was very impressed with the multinational component of this program,” Jones said. “All nations were represented. Ain’t that something?”

Sandifer said that, while he wasn’t surprised there was a large crowd, he didn’t expect that it would be as large. He said that he was glad that so many families turned out. While most of the students were from the West Side, some were not, and he was glad that the recital gave them an opportunity to mingle.

“It’s more than about music, it’s about families coming together,” Sandifer said. “Sure, we play music, but this is an opportunity for the community to come together.”


Igor Studenkov is a winner of multiple Illinois Press Association awards for local government and business reporting. He has been contributing to Austin Weekly News since 2015. His work has also appeared...