Con spirito. Part 1, Agitato. The Tenacity of Spirit

A note from Jamie
To follow-up on my new year’s resolution to make peace my 2016 priority, I started a series of essays called Con spirito.  I also began studying hula at the Old Town School, am learning about the peaceful tradition of this ancient artform, and plan to go to Hawaii.  I am revisiting the work of German expressionist and pacifist Kathe Kollwitz toward creating a dramatic piece.  
Events and programs I’m involved in Feb. Mar. and April are listed below, updated on FACEBOOK, and promoted my e-newsletters.  Need more?  email me

CON SPIRITO.  Part 1, Agitato, The Tenacity of Spirit

By our nature, we musicians imagine a world and conjure-it up, note by note, phrase by phrase.  We have to believe we make a difference. We forge ahead, seeking like-minded companions on the trek, and inspiration in the minutiae, the extreme, and even the mundane.  Now in my late 50s, there is more time behind, than before me.  So I draw on those decades of experience as an activist and artist, contemplating my work for the year ahead.  Trepidatious and still hopeful. 

Bel Canto.
10653536_1006429919435292_2391922416242122005_nLast August, my friend Maureen asked me to join her at the Lyric Opera for a performance of Bel Canto. Up to my eyeballs in moving worries, I could neither see that far ahead or imagine where I’d be on a distant January afternoon, let alone think about what
molto pesante we had in store with this opera.

I admit, I hadn’t read the book.

“Bel canto? An Italian term meaning beautiful singing,”
I thought. “Nice. I’ll go.”

Those of you familiar with Ann Patchett’s celebrated 2001 novel, may know the story was drawn from a real life terrorist incident at the Japanese Embassy in Lima, Peru in 1996. The author, tho new to the language of opera, did her share of research and created a timely story, eerily ripe for today. The new opera, composed by Jimmy López, with libretto by Nilo Cruz, and sung in eight different languages, including Quechua (Peruvian), premiered in my home city of Chicago. It is a stirring and dramatic piece.  

Opera in the grand tradition.  A modern saga told in three acts. Opera Verité to the nth degree.

I was exhausted when the curtain fell three hours in, and by the look on the faces of the patrons around me, so was everyone else.  
It was only the first week of January, and already the start of things this new year was less-than-promising. 2015 brought murders in Charleston, SC, Colorado Springs, Colo, San Bernadino, CA, the Paris attacks, and more.  And early 2016, Chicago’s violence and shoddy politics darkened our world.  All this weighed fresh and heavy on my mind.

 “Are you safe in a jam-packed opera house?  Anything can happen at any time,” the voice in my head whispered., scoping out the exits. 

Yet, there I was, and all around us people gathered with the common notion that music inspires and elevates. Presumably pleased at the outing.  On that chilly Friday afternoon, holding our breath at the drama on stage, maybe we were looking for answers.  As I sat elbow-to-elbow with silver-haired retirees, in that sea of humanity, I felt a kind of defiance of evil, and witnessed a tenacity only age and long-living offer.

IMG_5997Yesterday, I put on music, sang and danced with my granddaughter Olive, who is now standing strong and walking.  A one year-old wonder.  In time, she took-in the new space where the Christmas tree had been, now clear, with a spare hearth rug.  She looked at me, sat down, then laid on her back, stretching, turning, lifting. Humming.  Squealing.  Maybe a simple imitation of the yoga class she visits with her Mom.

We moved to the bedroom where a small prop chair hid behind the playpen. She greeted, and then removed a stuffed bear, squeezed behind the playpen, and moving the chair to a new spot, sat down and surveyed the room and me through the mesh of the playpen.

Then she put her little feet against the screen and pushed it, once, twice, and a third time til playpen and chair were enough of a distance apart, she could resume sitting and enjoy her corner, unencumbered.

Thinking back on the past few weeks and the state of alarm I was in, I wanted the President’s State of the Union Address this week to quell my fears.  To offer me a plan.  And for the Father of the Country to take care of business. Not gonna happen.  We’ve got a long road ahead, and for him, not much time left in this battered administration and divided electorate to make good his promises.

Here in my world, we’re looking at our responsibility.  Artists are doing what we do.

Little feet are stepping up.  They still dance and laugh and sing.
And watch.  And will speak-up. And push back.  And  push through.
And move …mountains.
The tenacity of youth.
And we get to be here when they do.

“It was like having a colorful butterfly in our hearts” (on hearing the Ode to Joy, Following the Ninth)

On April 17, I am going to be doing a talk on music for peace-making for the North Shore Choral Society at NU’s Block Gallery, before the screening of the documentary film Following the Ninth.  It is a very stirring film about the power of Beethoven’s 9th and the Ode to Joy on the modern world. The piece was the soundtrack for major world events, from the collapse of the Berlin Wall, to the defiance of the Tiananmen Square struggle for freedom. Read more here:

 Jamie O’Reilly’s concerts and special events. 

Spaghetti Folk (1)Sunday, Feb 7, 5 pm-9 pm
Roots Salon
Spaghetti Folk: Peace and Pasta
An evening of ideas and music
Chicago, Il (5 min from LSD)
PH: 773.203.7661
(private event, email for an invitation)


Jamie Sings Irish Songs
Jamie Sings Irish Songs

Jamie and Peter Swenson
with Al Ehrich, bass
“I Know Where I’m Going,” Irish songs
Thurs Mar 10 at 6:30 pm
The Acoustic Sound Music Series
The Merion Crystal Lounge
1611 Chicago Ave
Evanston, Il
In the former North Shore Hotel, this is a cosy site for acoustic music,
features delish food and drink, in a music series curated by Nan Anderson.



Jamie and Peter Swenson
with Al Ehrich, bass
Sat Mar 12  at 7:00 PM
St. Tim’s Coffeehouse
St. Timothy’s Lutheran Church
9000 Kildare Avenue
Skokie, IL 60076
PH: 847. 676.1300 (church)
Online tickets:
On Facebook:

Sunday, April 17  at 2 pm
Screening of the film Following the Ninth
Benefit for North Shore Choral Association
With a pre-film talk by Jamie O’Reilly, musician/activist
Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art
at Northwestern University
40 Arts Circle Drive
Evanston, IL    60208-2140
pH: 847.491.4000

North Shore Choral Association 80th Season


Bel Canto photo by Maureen Connolly
Olive and Jamie by Tom Amandes
Spaghetti Folk logo by Alex Broz
Irish CD art by Nia O’Reilly Amandes


  1. I’m very interested in anything you’re doing at your home for June of 2016, but I don’t have facebook or any of that other stuff. Can you please guide me? I saw Kristen Lems there a few years ago and so enjoyed the ambiance.

    Thank you and keep on singing!

    Celeste (lover of good music)

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