The Dredge: The Music of Christmas



By Judy Carmack Bross




The merriest of melodies and the most moving holiday music combine in programs by the Great Lakes Dredge & Philharmonic Society each December. Their bonhomie and repertoire of holiday cheer—carols, medleys, children’s favorites, and a few drinking songs—have made the Dredge sold-out successes across Chicago this season.


Dredgers Delight


Today, on this magical morning, we would love to share their cheer, and if we can’t send along their songs for you, we can show you how much enchantment those men in their signature stovepipe hats and holiday scarves brought to their recent performance for guests of the Guild of the Chicago History Museum.


William Gregg, Winthrop Short and John Nelson


Guild President Jill Kirk welcomed the Dredge for its second annual performance at the Museum and invited guests to “take an elfie” with another special guest of the evening.


Guild President Jill Kirk with elf friend


Rodger and Janet Owen


Dredge Managing Director Jim Dickerson told us about the group:


“Now in our 89th Christmas season, The Great Lakes Dredge & Philharmonic Society, fondly known as the Dredge, represents so many elements of the Christmas season for all ages: the fellowship of the members who love to sing and bring joy and evoke so many memories of the true Christmas spirit. Highlighting performances are the colorfully decorated top hats and seasonal mufflers worn by our singers. The repertoire includes many traditional, spiritual and joyous selections, and some Christmas hymns that audiences always sing along with the Dredge.”



A member for almost 50 years, Dickerson shared a little of the Dredge’s history: “The Great Lakes Dredge & Philharmonic Society was founded by eight gentlemen in 1934 as a men’s chorus devoted to Christmas music. Architects John Root, Walter Frazier, Noel Flint and John Cromelin, stock broker Paget Cady, real estate executives Louis Sudler and John Winterbotham, and retail great Earl Kribben met over a meal at The Tavern Club in Chicago to find a way to brighten the dark days of the Great Depression. It was serendipity that at a crucial moment the participants saw a Great Lakes dredge boat out on the lake pass by their window. The singing group was named.”


Through the years the Dredge, now with 75 members, has expanded repertoire and locations, from caroling outside Gold Coast homes to performing at hospitals, cultural institutions, senior facilities, and children’s wards. Several singers are now non-residents but return to Chicago each holiday season to perform. Musical Director Dan Robinson and accompanist Roger Stanley, author of many of their marvelous medleys, make the rehearsals, beginning each October, count.


Those with a little German used it that night at the Museum for a few verses of “Silent Night.” Others tried out their Latin in “Oh Come All Ye Faithful.” Kids loved the surprise arrival of Dickerson as Rudolph with antlers and a nose that blinks. Other traditional English carols like “Here We Come A-Wassailing” and “In the Bleak Mid-Winter” rounded out the repertoire.


Janet Owen with Chloe Louvot


Sally Sprowl and Eric Miller Large


Helene Zimmer- Loew, Susie Stein, Elizabeth Richter


Kirk told us more about the mission and programs of the Guild:


“The Guild builds community through our programming and special events, and promotes the History Museum through support of special projects, the most recent one being the Jaffee Family History Trail, for which the Guild contributed $275,000. The Guild will be the premiere and permanent sponsor of CHM’s ‘Welcome Home: Polish Chicago’, a new exhibit curated in collaboration with the Chicago Polish Museum, and which will travel to Warsaw at a later date. An opening gala for the exhibit is scheduled for May 19 with the exhibition opening May 20. Future plans include support for the restoration of the L car, the original 1893-era car built to transport visitors to the Columbian Exposition, and the highlight of CHM’s Crossroads permanent exhibit space.”


The L car


Tobin and Elizabeth Richter at the L Car


James Grimes and Pamela Bardo speak with Julie Katz, CHM’s Senior Registrar


Nell McKeown, CHM’s Development Events Manager told us more about the Guild’s L Car project:


“Prior to the concert, Guild members enjoyed a special reception kicking off the Guild’s fundraising campaign to restore L Car No. 1, the last remaining car of Chicago’s first fleet of cars on the first line of the L. Over the next two years the Guild will be raising funds to support the Chicago History Museum’s restoration efforts to restore the L Car, one of the most beloved artifacts on display at the Museum. Guild members and their guests enjoyed champagne and learned about the car’s history from the Museum’s director of collections, Julie Wroblewski, and Senior Registrar Julie Katz. Members also enjoyed an exclusive tour through the interior of the L Car.”



Abraham Lincoln’s own top hat resides at the Chicago History Museum and surely inspired the Dredge to feel particularly welcome as they brought so much holiday cheer.


To learn more about the Chicago History Museum visit:


Guild greeters Susie Stein and Connie Barkley kicked off the holiday spirit, and Barkley and the committee’s festive trimmed lanterns spread joy around the museum. CHM’s very own Dredge Night reflected the bright leadership of the museum’s Nell McKeown.