People who need music ... are the luckiest people in the world. From the earliest of times, people have had a need to make music for dance; music to stimulate warriors; music that seeks attention from a deity for rain, crops, relief from pain and more. All the emotions, love, hope, dreams, hate, fear and fantasy are found in music.
People have needed music from ancient days to the present, from the four corners of the world to Warren. Forms of music have changed as cultures have changed and as instruments have become more complex. Some forms have persisted longer than others because of the genius of the composer and because of its lasting appeal to audiences.
One such genius was George Frederic Handel, born in Halle, Saxony (now Germany) in 1685 and died in London in 1759. This year is the 250th anniversary of the composer's death. An example of the lasting appeal of his work is the "Messiah" - a Baroque oratorio (play with song and music but no actors). The biblical news, both old and new testaments, was the source material for this oratorio. While the "Messiah" is sacred music it is not liturgical (a part of a worship service). It was first performed in Dublin on April 13, 1742, at a charitable benefit to free 142 men from debtors prison.
If you have not heard the "Messiah" presented by a choral group of 150 voices with soloists and selected musical instruments, you will have an opportunity to do so Dec. 6 at Blessed Sacrament Parish. There will be performances at 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. An audience in excess of 600 is anticipated at each performance. "The Hallelujah Chorus" will be included in each event. Admission is free.
The first local presentation of the "Messiah" (1956) was sponsored by Warren's Dana School of Music in the Turner Junior High School auditorium. The performance was delayed by a half hour because of a snowstorm. The director for that first performance was Don Fernandez, director of music for Leavittsburg High School. The group was incorporated at that time with its own board of directors as the Warren Civic Chorus.
John Kurtz was a member of the chorus for that first performance. He played the piano. Kurtz has been involved every year - with a few exceptions - since then. He took music lessons from Gordon Brooks, an accomplished and loved Warren organist. Kurtz told me, "The 'Messiah' is the kind of music and story you should tell this time of the year." It has inspired him and nearly 4,000 local musicians and perhaps more than 50,000 audience attendees over some 50 years.
"About 80 percent of the singers are repeaters," Kurtz said. They hear about the opportunity by word of mouth. He said, "It is not difficult to sing the 'Messiah' if the person can keep the beat." Chorus rehearsals began Oct. 5. Two hour long sessions continue every week until the public performances Dec. 6. There are numerous sections in the oratorio, some short, others lengthy. Handel selected different section for nearly every performance. Kurtz does the same. "That's one reason why singers have to come to rehearsal," Kurtz said, "so they will know which sections I have chosen."
I remember reports in the newspaper in 1997 indicated the acoustics in the new sanctuary-in-the-round at Blessed Sacrament on Reeves Road in Warren were not what was expected. Pat Campbell, director of music and worship told me, "Alterations were made. Within a couple years we had excellent acoustics." Campbell said, "We are so happy to have John Kurtz and the chorus here again this Advent season." The ladies of the church provide a "light singer's meal" between the performances. Baskets for donations are passed among the general audience. The proceeds, plus those of specific sponsors, go toward the expense of the performances, primarily for the soloists' and instrumentalists' fees.
Kurtz is billing the event as his first farewell concert. All who need music and Mr. Kurtz's leadership hope this will be the first among many farewells. Thanks also to the choristers who volunteer their time and to the Blessed Sacrament Parish, which makes their wonderful facilities available.