Frank Winkler to Guest-Conduct Music Institute Chorale July 24

Frank Winkler to Guest-Conduct Music Institute Chorale July 24

Recently retired piano and conducting faculty member Frank Winkler has performed and taught a wide range of musical styles, from the classic to the contemporary, but he has found the people, from professional musicians to teaching colleagues to students of all ages, the most rewarding aspect of his career.

"The best thing about my conducting and performing experiences has been the interaction with the musicians," he said. "I may have been standing in front of them when I was conducting, but I also learned from them, and it was exciting to share the repertoire with them. As for my students, I benefited as much from their contributions as they did from mine."

Winkler spent 20 years at the Music Institute teaching piano and conducting. At various times during his tenure, he led as many as nine adult and student ensembles, including the Philharmonic and Honors Chamber Orchestra for youth and Community Symphony and Quartet Strings for adults. He has conducted the Grant Park Symphony and the Orchestra of Illinois and made a cameo appearance as the orchestra conductor in the movie Home Alone II. He is the founder of the Symphonic Pops Orchestra of Chicago, which performed in Taiwan under his direction in 2000. For 20 years he was the director of the Harper Symphony Orchestra. Formerly a member of the Grant Park Symphony Chorus and the Chicago Symphony Chorus, he has been director of the Elgin Choral Union and numerous church and community choruses. He has performed as pianist with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Royal English and Bolshoi Ballets, and in a series of jazz concerts in Bombay, India.

Winkler felt very welcomed at the Music Institute from the beginning. "I remember when [Music Institute Director] Frank Little introduced me, those faculty who didn't know me asked about my teaching style," he recalled. "I explained that my specialty was diversity of repertoire-contemporary as well as classical. If a person walked in and wanted to study Haydn and Mozart, I felt it was also beneficial to study Elton John and Judy Collins. You learn about different styles of notation and interpretation. And they were very receptive to that."

As a teacher of both piano and conducting, Winkler found that each influenced and helped the other. "When I'm standing in front of a group, there's a group dynamic, and, as much as I enjoy conducting and performing, I really enjoy the group advantage of being able to seek the advice of one another. It causes me to tap into my own musical resources that can make a difference to other people on the other side of the room. When I teach piano, it's one on one, and you have different hopes and expectations for how things are going to turn out. You hope that your rehearsal regimen on a one-to-one basis is the same."

Winkler found different challenges in teaching adults vs. children, but was equally adept at working with both. For a period, he served as division head of the Music Institute's Adult Studies Program and had a robust contingent of adult students throughout his time at the school. "The aging mechanism and what it does to the body created different physiological problems for my older students, primarily because the fingers aren't as flexible and supple as they used to be. They definitely have to be a little more regulated and work harder to make sure they maintain the correct stance and posture, but it's also very exciting because their minds are so sharp. With young people, you see unbounded energy and sometimes very little discipline, but with my older students, there is so much discipline. Overall, I would say that it was enjoyable but challenging to meet my adult students' social and repertoire needs. Both groups of people have their pros and cons, and I enjoyed the complexity and diversity of it all."

Among the luminaries Winkler has performed with are Sylvia McNair, Kathleen Battle, Sammy Davis Jr., Buddy Rich, and Frank Sinatra. He shared, "Sinatra had been a hero of mine and was the ultimate perfectionist, which was incredible to experience firsthand. He had a wonderful ear and knew the arrangements and compositions so well. It was great to see the entire string section made up of members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, too."With retirement, Winkler is looking forward to enjoying music at a more relaxed pace. "I can now restudy musical works without the immediacy of a performance coming up. I can sit back and study a score for my own pleasure."

That being said, he does have a performance coming up: serving as guest conductor of the Music Institute of Chicago Chorale's Summer Sing-Along on July 24, featuring Schubert's Mass in G and Haydn's Lord Nelson Mass. He finds working with the Chorale "very enriching and unique. Sometimes we have more than 100 people singing music they know and love. It's wonderful for those who are used to large choruses but don't have time to commit to something ongoing. This gives them a chance to reacquaint themselves with repertoire and sing with a full orchestra. Danny [Wallenberg, Chorale music director] has already invited me back for July 2020."

The Music Institute of Chicago Chorale, with guest conductor Frank Winkler performs Wednesday, July 24 at 7:30 p.m. at Nichols Concert Hall, 1490 Chicago Avenue, Evanston. Participation is $10 (register here). Audiences pay $10 at the door. An optional free rehearsal for participants takes place Tuesday, July 23 at 7:30 p.m. at Nichols Concert Hall. Call 847-905-1500 with questions or to reserve a copy of the score. Information about Chorale auditions and more is available at

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