Ten Minutes With the Musical Director of the Ridgefield Chorale
Daniela Sikora learned the hard way that if she isn’t making music, she isn’t happy. The former opera singer, who started on her musical path at the age of six, took a 17-year detour working in a lucrative career as a paralegal. But it wasn’t until 1998 when she became musical director for the popular Ridgefield Chorale chorus that she realized music wasn’t just a gift—it was as essential as the air that she breathes. We spent time to hear her story.
Tell us a bit about your background.
My parents immigrated to Chicago from Germany when I was four. We were very poor. My father was a janitor. My mother was chronically depressed. As melancholy as she was, my dad was very joyful and life was an adventure to him. We were happy and always surrounded by music. My mother had a beautiful soprano voice, and my father was a tenor.
When did you start singing opera?
My father taught ballroom dancing, and I would bite the legs of the ladies because I didn’t want them dancing with him. When I was six I began training with Zerline Muhlmann Metzger. By seven I was performing in Aida. I stayed with Mrs. Metzger until I was 17.
Why the detour from music and what brought you back?
I was struggling to support myself. I took a temp job at a law firm using my language skills and ended up staying for 17 years. The hunger for music doesn’t go away—it ate a hole in my heart. I asked my therapist for medication, but she told me what I needed was music.
What was the Chorale like when you took over?
I say this with apologies to those who had started the Chorale, but it was pretty bad. They had 14 members. When they asked me to take it over, I asked for two things—a five-year contract and that we become a contemporary group.
How is the Chorale doing now?
When I held the first meeting, I thought, “No one will walk through that door.” But people came. Today we have 75 members. Now, 22 years later, we are an institution. Our next concert will take place on Saturday, May 2.
You talk about acts of kindness that have defined you as a person. Can you explain?
The Polish community in Chicago who helped us immigrate—who would I be today if they had not helped us? Mrs. Metzger who trained me had an integrated studio with Latin and African-American children performing operas. Years later I found out that the two Hershey chocolate bars my mother purchased before each lesson was all that she charged us. These acts of kindness bring tears to my eyes and really shaped my life.
What is Being Human Being Kind?
A couple of years ago The Chorale created Being Human Being Kind, asking the community to display a sticker—a blue dot in a store window—to say you have made a commitment to treat people with kindness. If a child feels threatened in any way, they can walk into any place of business with a blue dot and find safety.
What advice can you give?
If you want to sing, sing. The Chorale turns no one away.