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Karen Allendoerfer

My first Messiah Concert

December 14, 2008 at 2:05 PM

This afternoon I'll be playing the first violin part of Handel's Messiah for the first time in a concert.  I've sung a few excerpts of the soprano part over the years, even once with a sing-along orchestra in college, but it's not the old standard for me that it is for many here, or for one of my orchestra-mates, who says that December *is* the Messiah for him.

This concert has been a little star-crossed:  one of our long-time members fell and broke her arm right after the first rehearsal.  Then the principal 2nd developed something like tendonitis and had to drop out.  Last week a couple of us had to spend some time convincing a violinist who hadn't been able to make the first couple of rehearsals not to leave altogether.  I suggested 2nd violin because I thought that part might be more straightforward to sight-read and learn in a week.  At the dress, she's still there, in the back of the seconds.  But the soprano soloist had a nasty cold and couldn't sing the dress at all.

I've found that the sheer length of the piece is a major issue for me.  It is hard for me to sit and play for 2+ hours without much of a break.  It is also hard to keep on top of all the key changes.  I played poorly at the dress rehearsal.  I was distracted by stuff going on outside of rehearsal and missed accidentals.  One of them resulted in the  conductor yelling "Minor!" at the whole first violin section (so maybe I wasn't the only one who missed it).  But, on the plus side, going back and practicing after that has put me back in touch with musical key as an important concept.  As I have done with slides for scientific presentations, I'm learning the movements in order, going over them in my mind by title and key. 

Last weekend I attended a concert for my birthday by the Longwood Symphony Orchestra.  This is the orchestra I auditioned for but didn't make in the fall.  They played Vaughan Williams' "Sea Symphony," which is also a big long choral/orchestral work that I was unfamiliar with.  It lasts a little over an hour, which is only half the Messiah, but still, it was a long time to sustain attention.  Seated in the second row, right in front of the stage, I had ample opportunity to observe the violinists.  I now watch concertmasters more closely:  they all seem to have a lot of energy when playing.  It was remarkable, actually, the 2nd stand outside player looked similar in many ways:  both were young Asian men in their 20's in a black suit with the same haircut.  Both were skillful players, but the CM was "more," somehow.  The piece was enjoyable to listen to but it was rather cerebral.  The lyrics in particular were odd:  "Today a rude brief recitative . . . ".  And what *is* a "vast Rondure?" 

The hour passed quickly, but when it was over, I realized that I was glad I was in the orchestra I was in, playing the Messiah.  I think we will rise to the occasion.


I have two concert outfits, the sleeveless satiny embroidered kimono tunic that I wear when it's warm enough, and what I wore to this concert, which is velvet, and which I got on deep discount at Zia Clothing Outlet.  I put in my contact lenses (a rarity), and wore make-up (an even bigger rarity).  I got out my grandmother's diamond ring and my other grandmother's pearl Christmas brooch.  I got a few comments that indicate what I know already and what will probably be increasingly true as I get older:  I look better when I wear make-up. 

My family wasn't there.  My daughter had another karate belt test,  and this music is way too long for my 5-yo son to sit through.  My daughter passed, this time she is a blue-green belt.  (Hah!  All those push-ups I make her do when she makes mistakes practicing her violin seem to be helping . . . ;-)

The lighting in this church is, in a word, horrible.  The Philharmonic Society has donated significantly to a church fund to fix the lighting, and the process is supposed to start in January and be done by March.  That's great, but it doesn't help for this concert, which starts while the sun is up (barely) and still coming through the big windows, and ends at 5:30 on what is almost the shortest day of the year.   My little clip-on Mighty-Brite stand light is not enough, and I asked my stand partner to bring a heavy-duty stand light from the music store where he works.  Another early Christmas present to myself.  This helps me see (at least some of) the accidentals I missed at the dress. 

The church was full.  We ran out of programs and had to start giving out the ones that had been set aside for the orchestra to more people in the audience.  I talked to the oboe and I'm getting the hang of this tuning thing.  The soprano, recovered, nailed her solos.  There were, admittedly, a couple of rocky starts to a couple of the movements.  I am still getting used to following choral conductors.  This one in particular, I can't always tell whether he's giving an upbeat or whether he wants us to come in right then.  My stand partner, bless his heart,  is a little better at that. 

We do not do the Messiah every year, but we did it this year because it is the 75th anniversary of the Philharmonic Society of Arlington.  The Messiah was played in the group's first year.  So was Capriccio Italien, which we played at the last concert.  Our member with the broken arm, Phyllis, was in the audience.  Phyllis, who is 92 years old, has been a violinist with this orchestra for 74 of those 75 years (she couldn't join the first year because she was still in high school at the time and high school students were not allowed to become members).  "I'll be back for the next concert!" she promised. 

Three-quarters of the audience gave us a standing ovation.  We wished each other happy holidays, put away the stands and rearranged the chairs.  As I packed my new little stand light back in its box, the soprano told me she loved my dress.  My back hurt a little bit by the end, but it went away as I went out into the night.  Most of the audience had already gone home.  A little pause, lit by the strings of holiday decorations in the town center, before the last headlong plunge into the holidays. 

From Bill Busen
Posted on December 14, 2008 at 10:43 PM

And what *is* a "vast Rondure?

You're stepping on it!  :-)  Very visionary words actually, for the 19th century: "O vast Rondure, swimming in space..."

I sang Sea Symphony last year with UISO; it does take a while to grow on you.  And I'm off to Messiah tonight!

From Emily Grossman
Posted on December 14, 2008 at 11:28 PM

The Messiah is the only piece so far that I've found myself becoming tired of being on the stage.  I could never seem to remember what was coming next, either.

From Anne Horvath
Posted on December 15, 2008 at 12:00 AM

And.  We.  Shall.  Play.  For.  Eh--  Ver,  And Eh---Eh-Eh  Ver.

From Mendy Smith
Posted on December 15, 2008 at 12:16 AM

We in the viola section keep ourselves entertained in the Messiah by making up new names for the movements like "I Know that My Squirel Liveth", and "All We Love Are Sheep".  This can give us a fit of the giggles however.  :)

My Messiah concert call is in 2 hours.  ;)

From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on December 15, 2008 at 12:32 PM

I never really felt the need to "keep myself entertained," but there was one rehearsal where were asking each other "Why *do* the nations?  Why do they?"

From Marianne Hansen
Posted on December 15, 2008 at 2:42 PM

I'm afraid we must have been awfully smutty-minded - we never had to change the words at all to be amused. "All we like sheep" always brought down the house at the open reading I used to attend.  And most years there was a toy sheep on a string dragged through the room when appropriate.

From Tom Holzman
Posted on December 15, 2008 at 4:12 PM

There is nothing quite like your first performance of the Messiah.  Although you get better each time, nothing compares with the thrill, even though that thrill seems to play out over a looonnngg period of time.  My orch sticks mostly to part 1, so, once we are done with part 1, we are most of the way through.

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