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Published: Sunday, 11/29/2009

Sounds of the season: From ‘Messiah' to Steamroller, music lifts the spirit

BY SALLY VALLONGO
SPECIAL TO THE BLADE
Masterworks Chorale, under the direction of Donna Tozer Wipfli, performed last year in the
Toledo Museum of Art. This year the group sings in Epworth United Methodist Church. Masterworks Chorale, under the direction of Donna Tozer Wipfli, performed last year in the Toledo Museum of Art. This year the group sings in Epworth United Methodist Church.
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Today, the first day of Christian Advent, means the Christmas spirit is officially with us. Reflection and penitence, traditional attitudes for this first church season, have largely been supplanted in the world by anticipation and celebration.

And at no time is music more central to the holiday spirit than during Advent.

Christmas carols are punctuated by Salvation Army bells, enriched by brass choirs, and sparkled with the “Hallelujahs” of fervent choruses during annual performances of Handel's oratorio, “Messiah.”

Something about the season inspires singing. And singing inspires all of us, in one way or another, says Donna Tozer Wipfli, celebrating her 20th season as artistic director of Masterworks Chorale, Toledo's most lauded choir.

“Everyone can sing. It's an expression of how people feel, and no instrument is needed,” notes Tozer Wipfli, who will conduct the chorale in two seasonal concerts titled “Repeat the Sounding Joy,” at 8 p.m. Saturday and 4 p.m. Sunday at Epworth United Methodist Church, Valleyview Drive and Central Avenue.

One need not be religious at all to savor the favorite songs of the season, although listening to some of the choruses from “Messiah” may induce feelings of piety and devotion.

For Sam Szor, Toledo's Mr. Music, next Sunday will mean the continuation of a 50-year tradition conducting the Toledo Choral Society — it's marking its own 80th anniversary — in the Handel masterwork.

This year, the Toledo Symphony, which has always accompanied the TCS and Szor, has assumed a larger role in the production and partnered with Bowling Green State University. Joining the Toledo choir will be the BGSU Choral Society, conducted by Mark Munson, and soloists soprano Carol Dusdieker, Fenlon Lamb, Christopher Scholl, and Sean Cooper.

Munson will conduct the 8 p.m. Wednesday performance at BGSU's Kobacker Hall; an 8 p.m. performance Saturday in the Peristyle, and Szor will lead the group on at 2:05 p.m. Sunday in the Peristyle.

In Ann Arbor one of the most senior “Messiah” productions in the country will return to Hill Auditorium on the University of Michigan campus. At 8 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday the University Musical Society Choral Union and Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra will recreate the 1741 oratorio under the baton of Jerry Blackstone.

“Messiah,” a three-part work with libretto crafted by English literary scholar Charles Jennens and Handel's emotive score, was premiered in Dublin in 1742. Since then, notes Christopher H. Gibbs, a music professor at Bard College, it has been performed continuously every since.

That's not a bad record for a score the ever-efficient German composer residing in London wrote in a mere 24 days.

Part of the reason for its enduring popularity is that Handel, who had written dozens of operas before “Messiah,” was used to writing for the theater, explains Gibbs, adding: “He knew how to make something moving, theatrical, exciting.”

Do-it-yourself musicians also have an opportunity to join in during the sixth annual “Messiah” Sing-along presented by Christ the Word Presbyterian Church, on at 7 p.m. Dec. 13 at Seventh Day Adventist First Church, 4909 Sylvania Ave. Andrew Dionne will conduct chorus, soloists, and accompaniment. Scores will be on loan at the door, although seasoned singers are encouraged to bring their own dog-eared, pencil-marked copies.

Beyond oratorios, there are so many, many ways to rekindle the spark of holiday spirit that lies dormant all year long. Toledo is a virtual hotbed of opportunities to listen to both choral and instrumental celebrations of the season.

Today, Sylvania native Chip Davis brings his internationally renowned road show, Mannheim Steamroller, to the Stranahan for his latest incarnation of holiday music.

Next Saturday, Toledo's Teutonia Maennerchor and Damenchor (Men's and Women's choruses) will offer their annual Weihnachtskonzert (Christmas concert) at Oak Shade Hall, 3624 Seaman Rd., Oregon, complete with a pork chop dinner prepared by the Holzbacherbuam Schuhplatter dancers. In Tiffin, the historic Ritz Theatre will present “Christmas at the Ritz.”

Sunday is even busier, with the Clarence Smith Community Chorus in concert at St. Martin de Porres Church; Calvary Bible's musical celebration; a performance by the Toledo Symphony at Community of Christ Church in Whitehouse, and the booming Tuba Christmas at the University of Toledo's Doermann Theatre. Lourdes College choirs and the Maumee Community Band will perform a holiday program at 7:30 p.m. in the Franciscan Center in Sylvania.

If only the second weekend of Advent had a few more days, music lovers would be able to enjoy more of the musical gifts offered by local groups. The rest of the season remains busy through the third weekend, but after that, all those performers, no doubt sung- and played-out, will be as busy as their audiences preparing for the culminating holiday on Dec. 25.

Contact Sally Vallongo at: svallongo@theblade.com



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