Who hasn’t longed for applause and a moment in the spotlight?
These McHenry County residents are proof that an arts career doesn’t have to be a dream, as they use their talents to enrich the lives of their students, their communities and themselves.
Even as a child, Chesney Murphy loved to dance.
“When I was 3, my mom enrolled me in dance,” she says. “Moving to music was just fun for me.”
Murphy, 27, began to take dance seriously after her family moved to Crystal Lake and she studied ballet at the Judith Svalander School of Dance. Yet, it wasn’t until high school, when she cut back on dance classes to devote more time to cheerleading, that she realized how important dance was to her.
“I missed how it made you feel,” she says. “You get lost. Everything just kind of disappears while you’re dancing.”
After graduating from Crystal Lake South High School, she majored in dance at Columbia College in Chicago — a decision that worried some of her family.
“My mom was happy, but others were worried I’d spend all this money and not have a job. I’d hear things like ‘X-ray technicians make good money.’ Actually, I still hear that,” she says, laughing.
She took the advice in stride and listened politely, but she says learning how she could use her dance degree helped her feel confident with the direction she had chosen.
“I could go into teaching or arts integration in schools,” she says. “The jobs aren’t easy to find, but they’re out there if you’re willing to stick with it.”
Though she had friends who pursued careers in New York and Los Angeles, and though her childhood fantasy was to perform as a back-up dancer for Britney Spears, Murphy has taken advantage of opportunities to work locally.
Currently, she teaches at the Judith Svalander School of Dance in Crystal Lake and is a resident choreographer for Crystal Lake Central High School’s musical theater productions, where she has created dance routines for “Hello Dolly,” “Hairspray,” “Anything Goes,” and several other shows.
“It’s a challenge because you get kids with all levels of experience, from those who’ve been doing theater all their lives to those who just decided to try out,” she says. “You work hard to get it to look cool and be fun for the kids, and the best part is when you see them get it.”
It took Susan Marotta more than 20 years to become an overnight success, but the Johnsburg author never considered quitting.
“When you’re a writer, you have to write,” she says. “I’ll have characters and stories in my head, and I have to tell them.”
She writes romantic suspense novels under the pen name Susan Rae, which is taken from her middle name. This year, she finished two books: “heartbeats” was published in April, and “freefall” was scheduled for release in June. Both are electronic books, available through online retailers or direct from the publisher at www.musapublishing.com.
Marotta’s books have a distinctly local flavor. Much of “heartbeats” takes place in Richmond, while “freefall” is set in Door County, Wis. She currently is at work on a new series — a continuation of “heartbeats,” which features a family of Chicago cops and firefighters.
A native of Fox Lake, Marotta was an avid reader as a child, which inspired her to write.
“In Girl Scouts, I wrote a play where there was a hero, a heroine and a villain,” she says. “I guess you could call that my first romantic suspense.”
Her love for creating characters attracted her to drama in high school and in college. But after a year as a theater major at Illinois Wesleyan University, Marotta decided a theater career wasn’t for her, so she returned home to marry and start a family. She graduated from Columbia College in Crystal Lake, earning a Bachelor of Arts degree with an emphasis in creative writing. When her daughter was 1 year old, she began writing her first novel.
Marotta continued writing as she raised children and worked as an insurance representative and freelance reporter.
“I’d write a book, send it out, have it rejected, go back to work,” she says. “Then I’d get another idea and do it all over again.”
She says it takes six to seven months to write and revise a novel, and her stories are often inspired by the news.
“I’m working on a plot right now about immigration and human trafficking that came from an article I read,” she says.
But as a romantic suspense writer, Marotta finds hope in even the most serious subjects.
“I’m a romantic at heart, and I want the story to have a happy ending,” she says.
Music Stirs Her Soul
Not only does Susan Geschke of Crystal Lake perform and direct music, she also composes it.
“Composing is similar to painting,” she says. “You begin by selecting different colors or note combinations for your canvas, but the true creativity lies in the unique combination of colors that result in unexpected freshness.”
Geschke currently is the music director at Immanuel Lutheran Church and School in Crystal Lake, where she directs an adult vocal choir, two adult handbell choirs and three school handbell and handchime choirs. During the last 13 years, she has published more than 80 handbell compositions in traditional and contemporary styles.
She loves her unique job.
“If people aren’t familiar with handbells, they’re intrigued,” she says. “If they are, they might have rung my music, which is always a fun connection.”
Geschke says that there are always ideas in her mind.
“I cull them down to what I think will work together, and then narrow it down further until I get something new,” she says.
While growing up in Park Ridge, she studied piano and then played oboe in her high school band and orchestra. The opportunities she enjoyed through the Maine Township East High School music department had a lasting impact.
“We had a full orchestra, and every year we would perform [George Frideric] Handel’s ‘Messiah’ with the choirs and guest soloists brought in from the Chicago Opera,” she says. “The arts were strongly supported, and it really made a difference.”
At the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Geschke majored in linguistics and played in the symphonic band. After earning a doctorate, she taught college level linguistics.
“Music and linguistics complement each other in that linguistics is the music of language,” she says.
It’s always been a toss-up between her two career interests, but for the past 25 years, she’s devoted herself to music. Her biggest rewards are encouraging and inspiring others.
“Music can lift your spirits, fill you with hope and open your heart,” she says. “For adults, it’s an opportunity to be part of a team, working together to create something of beauty.” mc