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Remembering Deborah Sobol

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“It is hard to believe that a year has passed since the sudden and unexpected death of Deborah Sobol- concert pianist, visionary impressaria and founder of Rush Hour Concerts. Debbie’s career started on stage when she was a young girl, blossomed in her adopted hometown of Chicago, and led to organization-building work that had her crossing paths with a whole generation of Chicago’s emerging chamber musicians and ensembles.

The role of mentor came naturally to Debbie, and she gave freely of her boundless energy in teaching young artists how institutional strength can undergird the preservation and invigoration of the art form to which she devoted her life. One year on, the organization she founded to expand the reach of live music remains strong, and the young artists and music-lovers she mentored carry her lessons with them in diverse pursuits that contribute to the vitality of the cultural scene in Chicago and beyond.

Below you will find some reflections from a cross-section of the artists and professionals whose lives she touched.”

Anthony Devroye
Artistic Director, Rush Hour Concerts

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“I have been thinking about Debbie -­­ not only her inimitable and singular spirit, but how she loved collaboration and partnership in all their forms. She loved music passionately, of course, but she understood on a deeper level than most that music is made by people and for people. Whether as a performer, as an audience member, or as a mentor to countless students and others who knew her, her enthusiasm came alive because of the connections made around and because of the music-making. This is something that I will never forget.”

Brant Taylor
Chicago Symphony Orchestra, cellist

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“Debbie Sobol was the very first person to ever hire Third Coast Percussion for a concert – almost 10 years ago. Every moment we knew Debbie – from that first concert until her passing last year – she was a mentor for our ensemble. Her vision for the role of the arts in our society, her warm heart, and her boundless creativity continue to inspire us. We miss you Debbie!”

Third Coast Percussion
Sean Connors, Robert Dillon, Peter Martin, David Skidmore

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“Debbie was an early mentor for Spektral Quartet, not only giving us an opportunity to perform on Rush Hour’s summer series, but encouraging us to “be bold raconteurs” in her words. She shepherded me through our first major general operations grant application, sitting down to go through my draft line by line. She sent me home to make the edits and then asked to see it again. That was Debbie – going above and beyond to educate and mentor new generations of artists.”

Russell Rolen
Spektral Quartet, cellist

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“Debbie’s love for music was contagious, her dedication to her family and friends was immense, her charisma was unforgettable. I feel lucky to have had her as my friend, and to have fond memories of our time together making music and sharing personal experiences.”

Yuan-Qing Yu
Civitas Ensemble and Chicago Symphony Orchestra Assistant Concertmaster

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“Debbie channeled her immense energy into all aspects of performance: she was a virtuoso pianist herself, but also understood the inside game of rallying a community of listeners to support great live music and ensure its accessibility to all. She helped me to see the critical role I, as a non-musician, can play in promoting, supporting and preserving this life-affirming art that I see as so central to deepening the human experience – how to lead a life in music and help others do the same.”

Jonathan Becker
Board of Directors, Rush Hour Concerts

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“I am so proud to have had Debbie as a friend, and as one of my greatest mentors. Before we fully knew it ourselves, she saw what 5HE was and would be, and understood the truth of our mission so fully that she could speak of our work with as much insight and grace as any of us. It was always so clear in the way she was generous with her time and wisdom that seeing young artists flourish was of great importance to her; a glance at Rush Hour’s programs over the last 15 years shows that vision in action.

In addition to the many ways that she provided guidance and opportunities to us as we took our first steps, she was also a mentor to participants in our annual Fresh Inc Festival, where she inspired emerging artists to listen and to be responsive to the needs around them as they embark on their professional lives. Her words were always a highlight for all, made only the more meaningful by the innumerable cultural gifts she gave to this city and its lovers of art through her own visionary work.”

Melissa Snoza
Fifth House Ensemble, flutist

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“Debbie was a singular mentor—and one to nearly everyone she met. Though she is one of the most profound influences in my life, I know that I am not alone in this distinction. She cared deeply for the personal and professional development of every young artist and staffer she met, and had an extraordinary eye for spotting talent and recognizing gifts. Debbie was nurturing, encouraging, and told the hard truth when you needed to hear it. She didn’t want you to be good—she wanted you to be GREAT, brilliant, extraordinary—and it pained her when you were not, for she knew you could be. While it’s true that she started formally teaching at a young age (a precocious 11, I believe), she was in fact a born teacher; it was as natural and essential to her as breathing. I find that I still seek her counsel each day, particularly as I strive to continue the legacy of her masterful coaching with the next generations of artists and students of life.”

Julie Hutchison
Former Managing Director of Rush Hour Concerts


Music is What Unifies

Debbie Sobol, our Founder and Artistic Director of Rush Hour Concerts worked tirelessly to connect people individually and collectively through music.

Her sudden passing on Saturday, January 25th is a profound and immeasurable loss for all of us at Rush Hour, the arts community and for everyone she inspired with her transformational and creative energy.

Debbie believed that music belongs to everyone. Fourteen years ago, she envisioned a new day for classical music,presented in the Rush Hour Concerts format that removes barriers so anyone who wishes to gain access is able to do so.

She thought of music as the great equalizer. “It doesn’t recognize age, nationality, sexual orientation, race or economic status. It needs only humanity to affirm its reason for being and serves us all.”

We have lost a beloved force, a consummate legacy, a passionate change-maker in advancing new ideas to deepen our human connection through music.

“Music is a moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, a charm to sadness, gaiety and life to everything. It is the essence of order and lends to all that is good, just and beautiful.” Plato


Statement from Thomas Orlando, Rush Hour Concerts Board President

It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of Deborah Sobol, the Founder, Artistic Director, and creative force behind Rush Hour Concerts. Debbie not only inspired all we do as an organization, she inspired us personally – our Board, our funders, our staff and our musicians – to advance and promote her intense passion for classical music and her indefatigable desire to have music touch and humanize people of all backgrounds. While we cannot imagine RHC without her, all of us who are involved with RHC are determined to continue on with Debbie’s vision.

Her mission was to bring great music played by the world’s most accomplished musicians to our ears and, ultimately, to our hearts, in live settings for free. Debbie understood that music is in many ways a contact sport. It is not enough to listen to music; humans have a need to touch the music they hear and only then may they be able to truly listen to it and be touched by it. And so our flagship summer concert series at St. James Cathedral is something well beyond a stuffy concert of chamber music. For 14 years Debbie encouraged the audience to get up close and personal with the musicians, and she found musicians who embraced engaging with their audience in every way. In 2011, Debbie took her mission to the streets of Chicago and launched the annual Make Music Chicago, a spontaneous musical combustion, which provides a platform for musicians of all stripes to let their inner humanity sing through whatever instrument they have no matter their skill, and provides a stage where professionals and amateurs can play music together. From the streets of Chicago Debbie also took us into some of its more under-served neighborhoods where she created community engagement residencies where children can work with master musicians to learn how to read and play music.

Debbie was beyond excited about this summer’s concert series at St. James, which will mark our 15th anniversary of touching people through music. She started working on the 2014 season as soon as last summer’s concert series ended. Most of what is in store for you this summer will have been curated by Debbie. What a treat it will be for all of us to have one last opportunity to again experience her brilliant artistry.

We remain confident that Debbie will touch us long after the 15th anniversary season’s last notes are played at St. James in August. Just a few weeks ago, Debbie wrote these words about Mozart, one of her favorite composers:

“Words come to mind: child prodigy, wildly creative spirit, … not of his times, but rather, timeless in his humanity…Mozart’s ability to capture human psychology in sound – a miracle!…Music grounds us in our humanity…You will find Mozart the Human in that company, and your life will be enriched.”

We cannot think of a better way to describe Debbie. Through Debbie’s wildly creative spirit, her timeless humanity, and her ability to capture human psychology through the musical programs she curated, Debbie grounded us in our humanity and enriched our lives.