Going to see a live music performance is a unique experience. It can be therapeutic, spiritual, enlightening, awakening, relaxing, or downright life-changing.
I took the act of seeing live music for granted until I left the Boston Conservatory in 2014 to finish my college education at Cornish College of the Arts. At the conservatory, I worked as an audio-visual technician and every night was spent recording dance recitals, voice recitals, operas, theatre, chamber music, you name it - I recorded it in the school year of 2013-2014. I remember bemoaning the fact that I could never make it to a Boston Symphony concert due to the demands of the tiny AV Department and my desperate need for work study hours. Now, I’d trade anything for just a week back there on 3 hours of sleep recording my 4th chamber music recital of the week.
I certainly attended live performances at Cornish College of the Arts, but the entire school ecosystem was very different. I went back to Seattle to compose for media and that’s what I did. Their program had a wider range of music classes geared toward audio production, electronic music composition and composition for film and theater. It wasn’t until I discovered just how happy I was to join a cast of actors and perform in a show did I realize that I was sincerely missing going to concerts. Now, I relish every chance I can afford to experience live music
This all goes to say that today I took advantage of such a chance and was blown away by the Bremerton Symphony Association’s performance of The Messiah by George Frederic Handel featuring soloists: Tess Altiveros (soprano), Sarah Martin (mezzo), Andrew Etherington (tenor), and Ryan Christopher Bede (baritone). I’m currently sipping on my weekly Sunday latte and I’m still slightly dazed from the brilliance of their performance.
Conductor, Alan Futterman opened up the concert by sharing a few words about the nature of Handel’s first performance of The Messiah, and mentioned that every time he conducts the oratorio he makes a point to learn something new about it. I certainly learned a few new things listening to The Messiah today, and I had what can only be described as a truly spiritual experience.
For one thing, it is rare that in a live-music setting I truly recognize that the work has been around for hundreds of years. Today I remembered that upon hearing Futterman’s retelling of how Handel premiered his masterpiece in Dublin, Ireland.
Do you ever watch a musical performance and try to put yourself in the shoes of the pieces’ very first listeners? For a moment, I was transported across hundreds of years to a time of hard, cold winters and a solemn, devout lifestyle and I was one of the first people listening to this stunningly beautiful oratorio. How astounding would the sounds of an orchestra and chorale singing these melodies with the soaring sopranos and altos and the invigorating tenor and bass lines be to someone who had never heard music performed at this caliber before?
Director, LeeAnne Campos whipped the choir up in fabulous shape after an already difficult musical season for the Bremerton Chorale, (I know because I’m her vocal student and have sung The Messiah with Bremerton myself!)
This moment was humbling - how often do we just see people who are unable to sit still and truly listen to live music because they are too busy thinking about what text they received and what television show they’re missing? I don’t mean to throw any shade at busy people; it’s quite easy to get preoccupied in your thoughts while sitting still for hours, but when do we truly think about how timeless this music is?
That audiences across time and space have sat in their seats listening to the same work for hundreds of years?
That the Hallelujah Chorus encourages people to stand and embrace the triumphant sound of the Christian Savior being born? (Even inspiring those of us who aren’t religious?)
That hundreds of years ago, a man wrote these notes down on paper and assembled a small chorus and orchestra together to perform his new work to find some way out of his debts and produce this work with the hope that he would find the money to continue writing?
And that in somewhere in time, there were people just like us who escaped the realities of a harsh winter to witness and enjoy the ecstasy that is The Messiah?
Is ecstasy too strong of a word? I beg to differ…
Have you ever felt just how METAL Handel is? Those double-bass lines and the chug-chug-chug of the cellos in conjunction with the dark subject matter of death, stripes, rejection, hell, and the wall of sound that is the full orchestra playing at fortississimo?
But then it’s juxtaposed with these subtle moments of pure simplicity and beauty where a soprano will linger on an exposed high note or the baritone will land a completely new chord structure or the mezzo will sing a note that just seems to go on forever and directly push against the strength of the orchestra…
I’m well aware that The Messiah is a musician’s bane every holiday season as EVERY audience wants it. Similar to The Nutcracker Ballet, The Messiah takes care of the majority of funding and audience counts for the entire calendar year and musicians everywhere depend on their well-earned payment for their part in the performance in every venue, church and performance hall in town. I know from my time in the Bremerton Symphony that this year’s inclusion of a performance of The Messiah was under debate. Tonight, I feel like I heard it for the first time.
I wanted to write this article tonight for a few reasons:
1. Live music is incredibly inspiring and I walked away INCREDIBLY inspired by the (of all things, the overperformed:) Messiah.
2. I want to carry this experience with me to every concert I am lucky enough to attend, especially if the music has been around for a long time. I want to sit in the audience and imagine I’m the first listener of the piece.
3. I encourage you to do the same. You’ll notice the details. You’ll be swept off your feet. You’ll ride every melody and sigh at every breath.
In this world where there is so much that is up-to-date and instant and so much at our fingertips to like, follow and comment on, take the time to sit still. Meditation, services, lectures, music performances - they teach us how to listen and be present. This isn’t a new concept and I’m not trying to beat you over the head with “woke person” mentality, I can only speak from my positive experiences being able to sit still and listen presently.
So listen. Let everything go. Let the trumpets sound and give yourself to the experience.