Chicago laments a chamber music pioneer

Chicago laments a chamber music pioneer


norman lebrecht

January 27, 2014

Andrew Patner writes:

The sudden and wholly unexpected death yesterday of Chicago pianist and artistic and organizational force Deborah Sobol is a terrible tragedy for her family and for music and community in our city. Over her 40 years here, Debbie co-founded and led the Chicago Chamber Musicians for 20 years, launched, led, and has been tirelessly expanding Rush Hour Concerts at St James (Episcopal) Cathedral and its educational programs throughout the area, and was the local instigator and anchor of the France-inspired annual Make Music Chicago day.

deborah sobol

All of this while being a respected performer, sought-after teacher and studio director, and faculty member at Roosevelt University and other institutions. A source of joy, support, and inspiration to so many, and with her devoted husband, Dr. Rowland (Bing) Chang, a wise philanthropic figure and mother, it’s just impossible to imagine that she is gone in an instant. WFMT, with which she collaborated closely throughout her careers (plural), will broadcast a special program Friday following her memorial service. 

Here’s a link to her full, busy life story. And here’s Debbie on the people who came to the concerts she organised:

At one concert a few years ago, a young woman came up to me. She’d just learned that she’d failed the medical board exams, and she was so distraught that she’d run into the nearest open church, which happened to be St. James Cathedral (Rush Hour Concerts’ Summer Series home). She told me that the music brought her back to herself, to the reality that she could take the exam again, this time with more experience. She left calm, restored and encouraged.

Then there’s the homeless man who comes neatly dressed every week, puts 15 cents into our donation box, and sits next to one of Chicago’s philanthropic icons (free admission means no assigned seats), discussing “what we heard last week” and “what we’ll hear next Tuesday.” He leaves connected and dignified.


  • Thank you for carrying this, Norman. I’ve not seen Debbie for twenty years, and I last spoke with her six or seven years, yet I will feel a connection to her until I die. I’ve shared her story of creating Chicago Chamber Musicians and so much more over the years to untold numbers of friends–the last time was yesterday, here in Qatar. A book about Deborah Sobol could be called, “When the Music Starts.”

  • Kurt says:

    I met Debbie only once, while studying piano at the Chicago College of Performing Arts. I was immediately taken by her sincerity, her passion and her commitment to bring music to the people of Chicago and of the world. Even though I never got to know her very well, when I read these news, far away from Chicago, I was deeply saddened. My thoughts are with Debbie´s family, friends and with all the people who will carry on her wonderful legacy.

  • David White says:

    This is just tragically awful news. I worked with Debbie during the time I was Interim Cathedral Musician at St. James, and I so adored her playing. I will always remember the four-hand piano work we did. My prayers of condolences to Bing and her entire family.

  • MarieTherese says:

    The world has lost a beautiful light…..

  • jane says:

    Thank you for writing this. I feel so saddened for the family. The work Deborah accomplished will be remembered by everyone. Her friends at St. James send our prayers to the family.

  • John Wilhelm, M.D. says:

    A wonderful family both personal and musical. An amazing legacy for the people of Chicago. A life fully lived. With sympathy.

  • Thank you, Norman — and friends of music, and Deborah, around the world.

  • Matt Liang says:

    Bing, Ben, and Sarah. A world wide ring of your family’s admirers Boston, Glasgow, and on were shaken by the news. Debbie’s music and her presense surround and hold us together