The Local Look: ChiMOP’s Thomas Madeja

When trumpet player, composer, performer and director Thomas Madeja looked around at the city of Chicago’s music scene in 2013, he saw one area where arts and cultural programming lagged far behind: Chicago’s inner-city communities. In response, he founded the Chicago Metamorphosis Orchestra Project (ChiMOP) in May 2013. By partnering with schools, churches, arts organizations and community nonprofits, ChiMOP is able to provide a safe engaging environment ofr students to make and pursue “artistic excellence.”

Thomas Madeja.

Why did you choose Chicago?

Though I do feel this project could serve youth in any city, I live here in Chicago and founded ChiMOP based on what I determined to be specific needs in local communities so there really wasn’t any consideration of other locations. Chicago has been very supportive throughout our first year. Mayor Rahm Emanuel has visited our program twice, our alderman has attended concerts and gave gifts to our students at Christmas time, and our partner-school principal has been a huge advocate on our behalf. But most of all, the parents of our students were eager to help. They just needed an infrastructure of a program like this to get involved and have been invaluable to our programs. The work we do at ChiMOP contributes directly to Chicago’s welfare. We bring the joy of music and, with it, confidence and empowerment to our students, who spread this positivity throughout their community. As we grow, we hope to reach more communities until our music and positive message can’t be ignored.

If you could go back in time before you started this project and share one piece of advice with yourself, what would you tell yourself?
Take a deep breath and don’t forget to live in the moment. I spent a lot of time this past year stressing about our financial stability and focusing on planning for our future. Granted, these are important. However, without occasionally stepping back from time to time to observe the impact right in front of me, the grind can become tedious and it is possible to lose sight of our mission.

What are your next steps?
As a musician, I want to find a way to connect my performing career to ChiMOP. Plans are underway to achieve this by implementing a community performance series in hopes of bringing world class artistic talent into our west side communities and connect these two worlds that don’t often interact.

We want to be in the know!  Name one person, place or thing that you think is one of Chicago’s best-kept secrets—a secret until now, of course.
Two things come to mind. The Chicago Beethoven Festival, founded by George Lepauw and the International Beethoven Project, presents a huge variety of diverse world-class arts programming in unusual spaces every fall. Also, Constellation, a venue curated by Mike Reed, presents cutting edge music and dance performances almost every night at little to no cost in a great intimate space.

One last thing: Give us some insight into the music you listen to.  Tell us a song that…
Reminds you of home: “Big Country,” Bela Fleck and the Flecktones
In college, this was my then-girlfriend; now-wife’s favorite song and I remember spending summer breaks at home listening to it thinking about her.

Is on your iPhone right now: “Destination,” Nickel Creek
I’ve been waiting for a new album from these guys for a while. They finally released this new one, and it’s really great.
Makes you think of Chicago: “Caring Is Creepy,” The Shins
This song was popular around the time we made the move to Chicago from the east coast. Plus, we saw them live, and it was a great show.


Makes you want to get up and dance: Body,” Milo Z
Saw these guys live when I was in high school. What a fun night that was.
Perfect for a long drive: “Symphony no. 4,” Tchaikovsky 
This was one of the first symphonic works I was turned onto as a child. It is a masterpiece, it’s the perfect length for a long road trip and it doesn’t get too quiet so road noise won’t drown it out.
From a new artist you’re excited about: The Poet,” Marquis Hill
When I moved to Chicago, everyone was talking about this guy. I quickly realized why. Love his sound and his ideas.

You sing at karaoke: “Fight for Your Right,” the Beastie Boys
This is just super fun to belt out in a bar.

Perfect to listen to while you work: String Quartet no. 14 in C# minor,” Beethoven
One of the master’s later works, it is powerful and moving, yet subtle and intricate. It is great for zoning in or out, depending on what you need. 

Q&As are edited for clarity and length.

Erin Robertson is managing editor at Chicago Ideas.

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