Getting Personal: Chester L. Alwes

Getting Personal: Chester L. Alwes

Each week, we offer a Q&A with a local personality. Today, 69-year-old Mahomet resident Chester L. Alwes, the soon-to-be emeritus music director of the Baroque Artists of Champaign Urbana (BACH) and a retired associate professor of music at the University of Illinois, chats with staff writer Melissa Merli. His final concert as conductor of BACH will be 'Music for Royalty' at 7:30 p.m. next Sunday at St. John's Catholic Chapel, 604 E. Armory St., C.

What interests you the most right now?

Hard to say. My wife has a to-do list for me, but I'm avoiding that by golfing, fly-fishing, bowling, baking bread and pies, and traveling with her.

Tell us something few people know about you?

I fear becoming my father. I get goofy around small children. I've read all of the novels of mystery writer John Sanford.

Why are you stepping back from the Baroque Artists of Champaign Urbana?

I will be 70 in November. It's time for someone else with new energy to create a new vision for the group.

Who will take over BACH?

Joseph Baldwin has just been appointed by the board as music director on a one-year renewable contract. He has finished his coursework in the doctoral of musical arts degree program at the UI.

When and why did you found BACH?

I founded BACH in the summer of 1996 to give myself the opportunity to perform larger musical works for voices and instruments from an era of which I am especially fond, and to give students, both undergraduate and graduate, the opportunity to learn this repertoire. Modern universities often neglect performing this body of music.

How long did you teach at the UI, when did you retire and what are some of the highlights of your career there?

I taught at the UI for 29 years, retiring as associate professor emeritus in the School of Music in 2011. Highlights were working with choral students of high caliber, who have also become friends and extended family. At the top of the list would have to be the 27 years I conducted the Concert Choir.

Weren't you working at one time on a dictionary of choral terms, for Oxford? In what stage is that project?

Actually, the project was a two-volume History of Western Choral Music from the renaissance to the present day, published in 2015 (v. 1) and 2016 (v.2). The contents represent what I taught in choral literature classes for 29 years. It is a unique publication, and I am pleased that Oxford University Press decided to publish it.

What kind of music do you compose? Do you still write music?

I have written mostly choral music, the majority of which are settings of sacred texts. The genesis of most of it can be traced either to commissions or the need for specific liturgical compositions when I was music director at Grace Lutheran Church in Champaign. My most recent choral composition, a setting of "A Mighty Fortress," will be performed at the St. Thomas Church in Leipzig, Germany, and other venues this summer by the choir of St. Paul United Church of Christ in Belleville, conducted by my long-time accompanist and friend, Dan Fry.

Do you prefer singing over conducting or vice versa?

I have conducted much longer and more frequently than I have sung as a chorister, but, truth be told, I love singing good choral music with a good bunch of friends. I regret that I have never had the opportunity to sing in a professional ensemble.

What time do you typically get up? What do you do the first hour of the morning?

I rarely have appointments before 10 a.m. unless I have a golf or travel date. My favorite trick is to get up for breakfast and then doze off again. Ah, retirement!

What do you consider your greatest achievement or accomplishment?

My greatest accomplishment is being the father of three wonderful sons whose accomplishments, both professionally and as parents, have made me extremely proud.

What do you regard as your most treasured possession?

My wife, of course, although she reminds me that I don't own her. Friends regularly tell me that I married far above my station.

Do you have a guilty pleasure and what is it?

Snacking in bed and binge-watching YouTube conspiracy videos.

What book are you reading now? What is your favorite book ever?

I am currently reading "The Devil in the White City" by Erik Larson. My favorite book ever is "Canticle for Leibowitz" by Samuel Miller Jr.

Where on Earth are you dying to go? Why?

I would love to stay for an extended period of time in Germany so that I could really experience the culture, get to know the people and hone my language skills.

What's your favorite sports team?

Chicago Cubs. Watching them win the World Series last year was the thrill of a lifetime.

What would you order for your last meal?

A BLT with garden-grown tomatoes and peach pie a la mode.

If you could be reincarnated after you die, what would you like to come back as?

A better person.

Who are your favorite musicians and why?

Johann Sebastian Bach, Heinrich Schutz, James MacMillan and the Beatles.

What’s the happiest memory of your life?

My first trip to England.

If you could host a dinner party with any three living people in the world, whom would you invite? What would you serve?

Morgan Freeman, Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks. I would serve plenty of alcohol — I want to hear their real stories.

Which historical figure do you admire the most and why?

Abraham Lincoln, because in turbulent times he was a beacon of humanity and sanity.

What personality trait do you most hate in other people? Most hate in yourself?

Pretentiousness in other people and lack of self-esteem in myself.

What’s your best piece of advice?

You can’t make a vocational mistake before the age of 35.

What was your first job and how much did you make an hour?

Working for my father in his outdoor advertising business in Louisville. My job consisted of cutting grass and trimming weeds around billboards for about $4 an hour.

What was a pivotal decision in your career and how did you arrive at that decision?

My teaching contract at the College of Wooster was not renewed in 1976 because I had not completed my doctorate. Though painful at the time, without that catalyst, I would not have come to the University of Illinois.

How do you handle a stressful situation?

This piece of wisdom has helped me to understand the complexities and multitude of perspectives in a stressful situation: "Unvoiced expectations are pre-planned resentments."

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