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Local choral figure on career, Seattle job and brutal accident
Special to the online edition of Windy City Times
by Carrie Maxwell, Windy City Times

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On April 3, the life of Paul Caldwell—outgoing artistic director of Windy City Performing Arts: Windy City Gay Chorus and Treble Quire ( WCPA ) as well as outgoing Artistic Director and CEO of the Youth Choral Theater of Chicago—changed forever when he was struck by a driver running a red light as he was walking across the street to his condo.

"I tried to retreat quickly but my left foot got caught in the car's wheel well and went around a couple of times, my left arm was run over but not broken and my right arm was shattered," said Caldwell. "Witnesses in cars and on foot saw it happen and many of them called 911 but the driver never stopped and no one was able to take a picture of the car because they were too worried about me."

Caldwell was taken into surgery that night and since then has had follow-up surgery. He spent the eight weeks after the incident at Glencrest Nursing Home recovering and getting therapy; however, the insurance company has forced him to vacate, even though the doctors and therapists say he still needs constant care. Only recently has his right arm regained limited usefulness. Caldwell is currently at home recovering with home healthcare providers and reduced physical therapy sessions due to insurance issues.

"As soon as my fellow WCPA colleagues found out about my injuries they've been by my side ever since," said Caldwell.

Caldwell was set to move to Seattle in August to take a position as the artistic director of the Seattle Men's Chorus and Seattle Women's Chorus when this incident occurred.

"I'm still planning on moving to Seattle as soon as I'm cleared for travel, but it might not be for awhile," said Caldwell. "I'm grateful they still want me after this incident."

Caldwell's journey to Chicago began years ago when he visited the city at the age of 9. That summer changed Caldwell's perspective on the world. He'd never been out of rural South Carolina until that point and instead of being a scary place, Chicago's diversity spoke to him.

Born and raised in Chester, South Carolina; Caldwell dove into music in middle school to escape his surroundings; since then, he's made it his life's work.

"My childhood was largely similar to a lot of people in the LGBTQ community who grew up in rural places across the country in that you didn't always feel safe but you didn't know why," said Caldwell. "Singing, especially in a group setting, took on a special importance for me because I started to feel safe and whatever noise was going on out there could be drowned out by my voice. I also knew that going to college was the only way out of Chester."

Caldwell graduated with a Bachelor of Music degree in 1986 from Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina, and received a Master of Music degree in 1989 from Southern Methodist University. Immediately after graduating, Caldwell took a job teaching music at a Catholic elementary school in Dallas, Texas where he stayed for three years.

While Caldwell was teaching in Dallas, his dream of moving to Chicago was in the back of his mind. Caldwell knew he wanted to keep teaching kids music so when the Chicago Children's Choir was looking for a conductor he applied and got hired.

Caldwell took a detour away from Chicago to take a position in Grand Rapids, Michigan, as the director of St. Cecilia Music Center and later as the founding director of the North American Choral Company. He met Sean Ivory ( who identifies as a straight man ) while in Grand Rapids; they've been composing music together ever since.

They became famous by accident when a noted conductor accidentally heard one of their songs and wanted it featured in a prominent venue. After that event, people started asking them to write music. Their work has been featured on PBS and A&E and performed at various venues around the world.

In 2008, they started their own company—Caldwell and Ivory Press. Caldwell said they will probably create music together until one of them dies. Their process, Caldwell explained, consists of batting ideas back and forth via email until they're almost finished and then they get on the phone to discuss ways to finish each composition.

"Sean is as different from me as different can be but that's what makes us work together so well," said Caldwell. "We have very different temperaments but through this music writing process we've become very much like siblings. He is a dream of a partner and actually was the one who encouraged me to come out both professionally and to the wider world as a gay man."

After eight years in Grand Rapids, Caldwell started seeking out jobs in Chicago because he missed the city. That's how he came to the Youth Choral Theater of Chicago—a community-based after-school program of 200 young people in Chicago's Northern suburbs—where he's been for the past 15 years as the artistic director and CEO. In 2006, under Caldwell's direction, the Youth Choral Theater was awarded the Chorus America/ASCAL prize for Adventurous Programming.

In order to marry personal and professional aspects of his life, Caldwell started working part-time as the artistic director of the WCPA three and a half years ago.

"I thought I was taking the WCPA job to give back but in turn it's been one of the most rewarding and meaningful things in my life," said Caldwell. "I'm a better person because of them and their wisdom. I was out in my private life but it wasn't until 2010 that I came out publicly after Tyler Clementi and all those other gay kids were killing themselves because they were being bullied. I had to tell the world I was gay and needed to make sure that the thousands of kids I interacted with on a professional level knew that you can be gay and have a meaningful, enjoyable, rich, full life. I also made an It Gets Better video."

Of the many things Caldwell has done with WCPA, the two that stand out, he said, are their collaborations with the Tyler Clementi Foundation and the Youth Empowerment Performance Project ( YEPP ). He noted that creating art with YEPP broadened and deepened his knowledge about the wider LGBTQ community. Caldwell explained that both experiences moved him in ways that no other experiences have.

Although Caldwell has had success and career fulfillment in Chicago, he said the new job in Seattle will allow him to spread his wings and take on bigger responsibilities. Caldwell explained that he'll miss Chicago after being here for the past 15 years but this was an opportunity he couldn't pass up.

"The Seattle job was a direct result of the work I've been doing with WCPA," said Caldwell. "With this new job, I'll be able to devote all of my artistic and creative energy to the LGBTQ community."

In 2014, Caldwell was invited to conduct a concert at the world-renowned Carnegie Hall.

"Of course, it was really exciting because it's a legendary venue and every musical kid dreams of performing there," said Caldwell. "To be there conducting a concert that's built entirely on the music you wrote and have people come from all over the country to perform it was thrilling, a head rush. I was giddy with excitement but it wasn't as meaningful as the work I've done with WCPA."

Caldwell also serves on the board of directors of Chorus America, a U.S./Canadian service organization for independent choruses. He received the Michael J. Korn Founders Award for Philanthropic Contributions to the Arts at the 2008 National Performing Arts Conference for his work raising money for New Orleans musicians who Hurricane Katrina impacted.

"My message to the world is look both ways when crossing the street and even then it's not enough," said Caldwell. "Also, show up and spend time with people, especially if they're confined by illness or injury, because you never know when you might need them to show up for you."

Caldwell's friends Madelyn Tan-Cohen and Kathleen Lewis have set up a fundraising page and at present they've raised about $25,000 of their $35,000 goal. To donate to Caldwell's recovery costs, visit

WCPA will be performing "Simply the Best" Saturday, June 18, at 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. at Ebenezer Lutheran Church, 1650 W. Foster Ave., in what would have been Caldwell's last performances with the group prior to being injured.

For more information on Caldwell and Ivory's work, visit See and for more details on those organizations.

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