Ann Arbor Community Messiah Sing
Half a century of song
by Frances Kai-Hwa Wang
From the December, 2014 issue
After braving the first big snowstorm of the season and slipping slowly across town to reach the Ann Arbor Community Messiah Sing, the children and I finally enter St. Clare of Assisi Episcopal Church (at Genesis of Ann Arbor) while the orchestra is still getting itself organized. We sit behind a group wearing matching green sweatshirts, and I think, "Good, ringers." We overhear someone say, "We risked our lives to get here."
The organizer, Meg Gower, begins by asking if anyone drove more than an hour to get here. A dozen hands go up. Then she asks if anyone has a score printed in the past 100 years. We look at our scores and find, "Copyright, 1912, G. Schirmer, Inc." Wow.
Huron High School's choir director, Richard Ingram, is introduced as the conductor. He later tells me that he has been conducting this event for six years, and before that his own choir director at Pioneer High School, Bob Pratt, conducted it for twenty.
The orchestra--drawn from across the metro area, including cellist Ellen Weatherbee since 1966--begins to play, and a tiny band of stalwart tenors stands up. The music is familiar and comforting, but the conductor soon pulls in the altos to give them support, and we are in unfamiliar valleys, we are in the wilderness.
Inside my score, I see a name, "James P. Friedman '54," plus a Ferdon Rd. address. I wonder about all the people who have held this score over the years. I find different passages marked for alto, tenor, bass. Different colored pens and pencils. Handwriting from an earlier generation, neat and curled, like a third grade teacher's. Heads up on approaching trouble spots.
By the time we are telling good tidings to Zion, all my old choir habits and alto swagger have come back. My feet are firmly planted, my eye is on the conductor, I am rolling my r's, settling into the rhythm, having fun with the phrasing.
always moved by the beauty of the imagery in sacred songs. My children, however, who do not fully understand this iconography, start giggling at "All we like sheep." Then they really start giggling at "How beautiful are the feet." My daughter turns to me: "What. Is. This."
But everything comes together in the Hallelujah chorus. Even nine-year-old Little Brother is belting it out, "Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!"
This year will be the fiftieth anniversary of the Ann Arbor Community Messiah Sing. "There are many other Messiah sing-alongs," says Ingram, "but none like this one. I think the choir likes to sing the solos after having listened to them for so many years."
[Originally published in December, 2014.]
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