Handel-ing the holidays
Truckee Meadows Community Orchestra and TMCC Singers
Just last week, standing on a podium in her white slacks, black pumps and navy blue dress jacket, reaching far over her orchestra, conductor Jennifer Martin respectfully commanded an army of musicians and singers through parts of Handel’s Messiah. She asked what pieces the performers felt they needed to rehearse or which ones they liked. She frequently corrected problems: “I’d like to introduce you to Mr. G flat,” to the cellists, “Heavy on the consonants, and think of the importance of the words,” to the singers.
Martin realizes the weight Messiah holds during the holiday season. Would Christmas be Christmas without it? Probably, but would anybody want it to be? George Frideric Handel’s religious and lengthy choral and orchestral masterpiece, based on passages straight out of the Bible, has survived and thrived for over 250 years. Many popular songs from Messiah are performed, minus the entire oratorio, around the holidays today—"Hallelujah,” “For Unto Us a Child is Born” and several others. Originally, Messiah was performed during the season of Christ’s resurrection, not his birth.
“Handel is the greatest composer that ever lived. I would uncover my head and kneel down at his tomb!” said venerated composer Ludwig von Beethoven.
”Messiah is very much a piece that brings the community together during this time of year,” said Martin, TMCC music professor and conductor for the Truckee Meadows Community Orchestra. “When UNR and the Reno Chamber Orchestra decided not to do it anymore, we were waiting to pick it up. In a community this size, there needs to be a performance of Messiah.”
TMCO, open to all musicians (not just those from TMCC) of all skill levels, has been around for almost four years. Members range in age from 16 to 70.
“It’s stupid to reach a certain level of proficiency, and then you get out of college or high school and quit if the Reno Phil doesn’t accept you,” Martin said.
Martin started TMCO and has been elated by the dedication of the musicians she works with and also by the response from the community, particularly this year. This season, members of local professional orchestras such as the Reno Philharmonic will be part of the performance.
“It’s great because they share their expertise with the young ones, and the young ones reciprocate with an energy that the elders feed from,” Martin said. Handel would undoubtedly appreciate this exchange of talent and vigor, naivety and wisdom.
TMCO will be joined by the TMCC College Singers as the necessary vocal complement of the Messiah performance. The night of the concert, Dec. 13, Messiah will be followed by music from the Reno Winds and Brass Ensemble. Katharine DeBoer, head of vocal music at UNR and an instructor at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, has performed Messiah all over the country. DeBoer is also participating in the TMCO performance as the foremost soprano, which Martin says has her “tickled pink.”
Stephanie Humbeutel started playing with the orchestra as a cellist in fall 2002. She is the group’s volunteer manager.
“I played all the way through high school and took 18 years off,” she said. “I started to play again then, but not as constant as I’m going to with this group. I can see playing with this group until I’m 80. Jennifer’s very encouraging. It’s a very positive atmosphere to play in.”
Every players’ joy at being part of the group led to enthusiastic performances the night of rehearsal, so much so that Martin advised: “Play just light and easy; excitement is built into this piece. Confident and precisely, yes, but not loudly.”
Rehearsing since mid-October, Martin said the group is plenty ready, although there’s always room for fine-tuning.
“We could rehearse it for a year,” Martin said. A year is the exact amount of time Handel spent fine-tuning the piece after writing it—fueled by what could be called divine inspiration—over the course of 21 days.
“Every time you play it," Martin added, "you learn something new."