For a number of years now, ProMusica Chamber Orchestra has been presenting George Frideric Handel’s Messiah in a side-by-side sing-along format — where all of the singers among us can join together in the majestic confines of the Southern Theatre and sing their hearts out to the 15 separate full chorus sections of some of the world’s most beautiful holiday music. Last night Kish and I and our friends Mr. and Mrs. JV took it all in for the first time, and it made for a fabulous holiday experience.
Most of us have heard the Hallelujah chorus from the Messiah and, probably, tried our hands at singing along, but there’s a lot more to the Messiah, and a lot more to the ProMusica experience. Last night’s program was hosted by the affable and knowledgeable Dr. Robert J. Ward, the Director of Choral Activities at The Ohio State University, who offered interesting and funny commentary about the composer, the music, and the message and feeling Handel was seeking to achieve in this choral masterpiece. To make the evening even more special, the ProMusica orchestra was joined by a host of student musicians from schools that partner with ProMusica in their music programs, and the combined orchestra was guest-conducted by Dr. Ross and seven other local church and school music directors who each directed different choruses. And the audience — or perhaps I should say the performers seated in the theatre rather than on stage — featured singers from no fewer than 12 local church and school choirs and choral groups, roughly divided into bass, tenor, alto, and soprano sections. The combination of students and teachers, professionals and aspiring performers, gave the evening an almost magical, festive feel.
And, make no mistake: the people in the theatre (except for the four of us, who were too awe-struck to utter a peep) were there to sing, in the most full-throated and unabashed way. They all brought their copies of the score to the Messiah and followed the direction of the composers, and they sang wonderfully. It tells you something very positive about your community when it can fill a theatre with highly capable singers who can read music and skillfully navigate the difficult vocal gymnastics of some very complex Baroque music.
The combined effect was, in an oft-overused-but-nevertheless-apt-in-this-instance word, awesome. The theatre was jammed, and the only seats available when we arrived were in box at the side of the theatre, right in front of the stage and next to the bass section. It turned out to be a spectacular and inspired location, with orchestral beauty coming from one direction and song from the other, giving us a kind of total immersion in the music. And the feeling coming from the students excited to be on stage, the guest directors happily getting the opportunity to strut their directing stuff in front of a big crowd, and the singers joyfully singing with all of the talent they could muster created an indelible impression. You don’t fully appreciate the combined power of a choir until you are sitting in their midst.
I’d be willing to bet that every person who walked out of the Southern Theatre after that performance was filled with the holiday spirit and feeling better about the world. Dr. Ross said at the outset of the program that their goal was not to change the world, but just to make the two hours of the performance as wonderful as it could be. Mission accomplished!