While there are many organizations with female presidents, the Apollo Chorus of Chicago (instituted after the Great Chicago fire as a way to boost morale) was one of the first groups to include women in its membership way back in the 1870s. Originally, they let women participate because they needed the money—but not long after, they became full-fledged members! Now, a woman by the name of Marie Paro runs the whole show, which is a fabulous example of how things come full circle.
Paro has worked for more than 20 years in the field of employee communications, aiming to connect workforces in increasingly dispersed corporate environments. She has advised CEOs on internal communications strategy, composed countless leadership speeches, and ghost-written CEO internal blogs. As Director of Culture and Communications at Diamond Management & Technology Consultants, her efforts were cited by Crain’s Chicago Business for inspiring a stronger sense of community in a largely virtual firm and recognized as instrumental in Diamond’s being named one of Chicago’s top five places to work (March 2008). Diamond was subsequently acquired by PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP where Paro is now an internal consultant on communications projects.
In addition to her career activities, Paro has sung for the last 12 years with the Apollo Chorus of Chicago. In May 2014, she was elected president of the organization. Because of her commitment to Apollo and to the societal value of choral singing, this volunteer leadership role has grown in scope and responsibility over the past season. She is striving to bring her professional experience—and her insights into organizational transparency and employee engagement—to Apollo's mission and activities. Her goal is to help build a state-of-the-art civic chorus model in which artistic excellence is paired with sustainable financial and operational support.
What inspires you in work and life and why?
"The creative process has always fascinated me, especially when output is made greater by a collaboration of designers, artists, or writers. Many years ago, it dawned on me that a large percentage of my favorite movies were examinations of how a great work of art came to be. I highly recommend Topsy Turvy, for example—a very fun film about Gilbert and Sullivan writing The Mikado. Or All That Jazz, a semi-autobiographical movie directed by dance innovator Bob Fosse. It has some great scenes of the choreography process and how dancers’ performances are enhanced by the right coaching. Even the recent Black Swan reflected on how purely perfect technique does not always equal a performer’s greatest work, and how the impact of other perspectives and styles can result in something brand new and exciting.
"I’m inspired by creative collaboration in my work life as well—even when I sometimes resist it. Composing messages and speeches is a big part of what I do, and it can be hard to hear feedback about how to improve my writing. Like many people in similar professions, I sometimes desire to just work alone and then 'unveil' my final product. But there are so many great examples throughout history of how collaboration can sharpen and elevate the written word. When I recently read that Ben Franklin’s feedback to a proud Thomas Jefferson on the Declaration of Independence’s first draft resulted in one of its most famous phrases, I had to laugh. (Jefferson had originally written, 'We hold these truths to be sacred and undeniable,' which Franklin suggested be changed to 'self-evident'—making the phrase less philosophy-oriented and more scientific). Clearly, much greater minds than mine understand that people working together and contributing their individual gifts to a project can create even more memorable, beautiful work. Just ask Lennon and McCartney. Is it any wonder I feel so passionate about community choruses like Apollo? Together, we’re hitting artistic heights we might never have reached on our own."
What's the best advice you've ever received and who gave it to you?
"Several of my career mentors have given me the same advice over the years, even if worded slightly differently each time. Basically it is that some people will love you, some will hate you, and in neither case will it have much to do with you. Of course, some people may love or hate you because of your specific behavior. But in most cases, your behavior is not the cause of others’ strong feelings. And once you realize this, you feel so much freer to do what you think is right, what you believe is high-quality, and what will have the most positive impact on your life and your business.
"I know this is good advice, but I find it challenging to always accept it. Like many in the field of corporate communications, I’m highly sensitive to others’ opinions and moods. But responding only to outside input, rather than what my instincts and expertise are telling me, is an easy way to wear myself out—and it’s certainly never resulted in my best decisions!"
The next Apollo Chorus performance is Mendelssohn’s Elijah, which takes place at University of Chicago's Rockefeller Chapel on Saturday, March 12, at 7:30 p.m. Then, for the first time ever, the chorus will do Apollo on Broadway (a mix of Broadway songs) at Fourth Presbyterian Church on Friday, May 6, at 7:30 p.m. and at First United Church of Oak Park on Sunday, May 8, at 3:00 p.m. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit the Apollo Chorus Chicago website.