Columbus Sings "Messiah" is a Golden Triangle holiday tradition. Doug Browning, pictured, will conduct George Frideric Handel's oratorio presented by a 100-plus voice choir and instrumentalists Dec. 12 at 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. at Annunciation Catholic Church in Columbus. Photo by: Courtesy photo
December 2, 2017 10:16:51 PM
Columbus Sings "Messiah" returns Tuesday, Dec. 12. That means conductor Doug Browning and his forces will spend about seven hours over two days making sure our performances stay exempt from these explosive ashes and switches given by Robert Myers in his 1949 book on the work:
"Year after year its score is mercilessly butchered ... its spirited tempi dragged and distorted by conductors whose ignorance of genuine Handelian practice is appalling, its graceful outlines blurred by soloists whose barbarous 'traditions' dictate grotesque top notes and trills, its grandeur ruthlessly violated by the insufferable lumbering jog-trot of choristers who proceed with the monotonous rhythmic beat of a machine."
The city's performances are at 6 and 8 p.m. at Annunciation Catholic Church, 823 College St. Browning, choir director at First United Methodist Church, will also conduct soloists Elizabeth Swartz, Heather Warren, Chris O'Rear and Ryan Landis.
The free tickets for both presentations are available in downtown Columbus at Party and Paper, the Convention and Visitors Bureau and Tennessee Williams Home Welcome Center.
Despite the loyal continuity of Columbus' orchestra and chorus, the local effort faces plenty of challenges, including Southern accents -- a factor Myers knew nothing about.
"In the first place, most of this piece is ghastly hard for a chorus," said Browning. "Look at Handel's ornamentations. It takes a lot of effort to carry those six- and eight-bar phrases of ghastly scales.
"Our main challenge is to deliver a consistent, unified sound. Our singers come in with a basic knowledge of the numbers. But we really all push hard on Monday to do things the same way.
"Most of all I try to stamp out the Southern accents.
"The most recognizable aspect of a good choir is everyone singing the same way. So we've got to get their diction devoid of Southernisms," he said.
It's a grueling two nights for the conductor, too, starting with a two-hour choral practice Dec. 11. (Anyone interested in joining the chorus is welcome to come at 7 p.m.)
"With a 110-voice choir, small gestures won't work -- the singers won't see them," Browning noted.
The Columbus choir of 100 to 120 people has many veterans. But it includes high-schoolers and older singers. "It's remarkable," Browning observed, "how these various kinds of voices will unify and produce that consistent sound I mentioned. Our younger singers learn a lot singing beside the more consistent singers who have been with us a while."
Columbus High adds grace notes
Church choirs, the Columbus Choral Society and the Starkville Symphony Chorus contribute "Messiah" singers. And for the first time, this year's "younger singers" will include some members of the Columbus High School Varsity Singers who will add some new grace notes at Annunciation Catholic Church.
Those arriving for both performances will see, and especially hear, carols sung by the Columbus High Singers. Some of the group's 40 members will then join the chorus for Handel's oratorio.
Browning commented on the demands of "O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion," the night's second chorus, and the "Hallelujah" chorus that ends the concert.
"Baroque music is closely tied to dance," he said. "I challenge the chorus not to stand and sing" -- and risk Myers' "insufferable lumbering jog-trot" -- "but to move with the music. When you move the music gets lighter.
"Also 'O thou that tellest' is the first crescendo in 'Messiah.' It gives the audience its first idea of the chorus: in those first lines, you show the listeners your power."
The "Hallelujah" chorus also calls for body energy.
"We're getting the chorus to relax and have fun. This number is one people know -- they can look up from the score and enjoy it. It delivers text with power and drama," Browning said.
"At the Monday and Tuesday rehearsals of that chorus, we work hard on clear diction, especially the articulation of the H. I'll say, 'Give me more H!'"
"Messiah" premiered in 1742. Now in his ninth year on the Columbus podium, Browning made three points when asked about the durability of Handel's oratorio.
"'Messiah' got associated with Christmas pretty quickly," he said. "It became part of the Christmas celebration even though it also has Advent and Easter themes. You know you can count on seeing 'Messiah' on TV at Christmas.
"Second, it's just the Bible -- no commentary. And then it's written in English. Sometimes languages don't translate well. But in English it has the right context for us."
The free tickets are good until 15 minutes before each performance. Annunciation has hosted Columbus Sings "Messiah" since 2001.
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