What was it like to participate as one of the 108 singers in the "Messiah" chorus, rehearsing such a complicated work for a couple months before the two performances Dec. 6? One of the choristers identified some singers in the 2009 group who were willing to share impressions about the experience.
"Yes! I'd like to know, too, what the participating people think," John Kurtz, the conductor, said.
"There was a togetherness, an almost palpable excitement about the musical event," Liz Sweet stated.
Mrs. Sweet last sang with the "Messiah" chorus more than 30 years ago. Because of family responsibilities and employment obligations, she hadn't been able to return until the rehearsals for the Dec. 6 event. She talked to eight or nine participants and asked each one if she or he would share feelings about the experience. "Other people," she said, "are curious to know. Maybe some will want to come to rehearsals and sing with us." Half of her respondents were area high school students.
Connie Mason, a Howland High junior, was one of the participants interviewed briefly by phone. She said, "This was my third year. It was phenomenal being on the stage. What a confidence building experience! I was scared the first year, but the experienced singers were so nice and supportive. Mr. Kurtz was good with directions, gently telling each section when to sing and how to lend feeling to the words and music."
John Carroll, a first-year singer and senior from Mathews High, was invited to participate by members of his family. John is an experienced musician, having sung for several years in both school and church choirs. John said, "Hearing the 'Messiah' is not the same as singing it. The event was an intense experience, overwhelming." John, unfortunately, may not be able to participate next time. He is likely to be away at college, perhaps Ohio University, he said.
Other comments by younger participants included: "It was interesting working with mature voices to make the sound more pronounced." "The music is really difficult, but everyone helped." "It was really fun and different, not that difficult." "In addition to giving our time, some of us also contributed the best we could toward the expense of the production." "I will definitely sing again next year."
Comments from "older hands" included: "Singing in parts is confusing for a beginner." "Gives me goose bumps!" "It was great having the enthusiasm of the younger people in the chorus." "Some want to refer to Mr. K. as maestro, but he won't allow that." "We love sharing our vocal gifts which help bring the 'Messiah' to the community." "The music and words were uplifting; stimulating the meaning of the season for me."
The repeated presentations of the "Messiah" around the world give evidence of a spiritual experience for many people. Yet the music composed by George Frederic Handel in just a month's time in 1742, 267 years ago, and the lyrics written by biblical scholar Charles Jennens (1700-1773) were not created as church music. Jennens came to Handel the year before with the idea of telling the story of Christ to the public in an oratorio. Handel's popularity was at low ebb, and he was financially stressed, as the story goes, so he was eager to pursue the new idea. The majestic music of the "Hallelujah Chorus" was not intended to be the highlight of the presentation, but, according to experts, that is what has come to be. The "Messiah" is among the most recognized pieces in the world of music. It restored Handel's prosperity and popularity.
Mr. Kurtz said this presentation "may have been one of the best in several years. In addition, I was encouraged that our donations and attendance were higher. More schools and churches participated. There may have been eight singers from the Warren First Presbyterian Church, the largest single representation, I think." Notwithstanding two knee replacements Dec. 30, Kurtz says he hopes to be involved again with the rehearsals and the event planned for Dec. 5, 2010.
A full Warren Philharmonic Orchestra combined with the "Messiah" chorus performing at the opening of the Robbins Theater in Warren some day would be an event to hear and behold. Could it happen?