Wednesday, December 5, 2012

A Tale of Two Concerts

Well, it’s officially the Christmas season, and the weekly overabundance of concerts is upon us. This week I’ve already been to two, one as an audience member and one as a singer. The experiences couldn’t have been more different, but they certainly cast the entire season in perspective.

Last Sunday, someone at church announced that she was unable to attend a performance of Handel’s The Messiah by Handel and Hayden Society that afternoon, and asked whether anyone would be able to take her tickets. Since it’s my favorite musical work, of course I jumped at the chance! After Brunch Bunch with the Young Adult Group, I headed straight to Symphony Hall. It was wonderfully decorated with garlands and ornaments. My seat was in the center of the first balcony. Even from the back of the hall, I could recognize my friends in the group when they came onstage. While it was hard for me not to sing along, H&H’s incredible crisp constants and shimmering tone had me rapt. The conductor, Harry Christophers, is eccentric and demanding, but brilliant; his animated body movements enlivened the experience of watching a live performance. The accompaniment by the H&H period orchestra was flawless, with precise but expressive bowings by the strings and an overall interpretation that was flowing and effortless, but also lively and inspired. I got chills more than a few times! As I sat listening to the familiar-but-fresh performance of some of my favorite biblical texts, I found myself writing sermons in my head… or else reminding myself of the authorship, contexts, and redaction history of the various texts being sung. This year, I was especially touched by “Comfort Ye, My People,” “Every Valley Shall Be Exalted,” “For Unto Us a Child is Born,” and “Worthy Is The Lamb.” Here’s a clip for the last one, and “Hallelujah”:

Of course, everyone stood for the Hallelujah Chorus and applauded afterward. I thought the crowd’s appreciation was impressive then, but that was just at the end of Part 2. When Part 3 (and thus the concert) concluded, everyone leapt to their feet, cheering, and demanded multiple bows from the choir, orchestra, and soloists. Yes, I felt the entire place was bursting with joy.

 The next day, I headed to Watertown with Chorus Pro Musica to sing at the Perkins School for the Blind. The Perkins School began serving only blind children and teens, but it has expanded to include services for kids with multiple and varied handicapping conditions. Although we were under rehearsed, the kids and their families were so happy to see us. We sang six or seven songs for them, and they weren’t our hardest repertoire, but the audience cheered so loudly for each one, it was almost raucous. Sometimes Betsy (our conductor) would introduce a song and one kid would shout “my favorite!” When she introduced “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” she asked the kids to sing the “five golden rings” part and said we would sing the rest. “Good luck!” quipped a teen. Given that we had not had a great rehearsal, we had to laugh, because we needed it. The spirit in the room was just as joyful and exuberant as Symphony Hall the day before, if not more so! I was impressed with the amount of noise! And, it seemed, we hardly did anything. When the secondary school choir sang “Sleigh Ride”, our basses, tenors, and altos filled in the chords underneath them. Sharing the evening and the stage with these special kids and their families was certainly a contrast to the day before. While the concert and audience were hardly refined, Christmas joy abounded there, too.

In liturgical time, it’s still Advent, and many of my colleagues and acquaintances don’t know that. But I think that the secular preemptive celebration of Christmas helps me to prepare the way for the Christ child in my heart— through art and charitable work. When I open my heart and give of my time to people like the disabled kids I met on Monday, the inside of my heart becomes a little roomier. ‘Tis the season indeed. Would that we could all be this generous and inclusive throughout the rest of the year.

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