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Thursday April 17, 2014
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The Choral Union

 

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to listen to the work. Hearing it — turning it into musical wrapping paper as part of a family tradition — is one thing. But listening to it — actually paying attention to every solo aria, every choral number, every bar, and every beat — seems to be just not done anymore.

For me, the Choral Union's Messiah hadn't been worth listening to, anyway. Until about a decade ago, I went every year. But no matter how many times I went, I could not rid myself of the unpleasant notion that I was at a meeting of a very exclusive club that, in a reversal of Groucho Marx's famous dictum, would not have me as a member. Everything that happened in Hill Auditorium was very jolly, very cherished, and musically very awful. The out-of-tune and out-of-sync choral singing, the warbling and wobbling soloists, the all-but-unconscious orchestral playing, the only slightly more than comatose conducting — all of it was just terrible. When I sat on my hands rather than burst into spasms of unbuttoned enthusiasm, when I resolutely refused to join the idiotic practice of singing along with the "Hallelujah" Chorus, I could tell from the reactions of my neighbors that I might as well have spit in the holy water.

I stopped going. But after a recent immersion in the glories and the wonders of Handel's oratorios, I decided to try the Choral Union's Messiah again. It was likely to be the only Handel oratorio I was ever going to hear live, so I went, fearing the worst but hoping for the best.

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