December 29, 2004

The Messiah, 2003 and 2004

I’m standing near the checkout counter in Performers Music. It’s a cold, weekday evening in November 2003 but the small shop cluttered with bins of sheet music on the ninth floor of the Fine Arts Building feels warm, even cozy. I’m thumbing through the score of Handel’s famous and popular oratorio.

A curly haired man with bright eyes behind glasses turns toward me and smiles. “Where are you singing, ‘The Messiah’?”

I feel my face growing red. “Well,” I say. “If,” I say. “If I sing ‘The Messiah,’ I’ll be singing at the Civic Opera House next Tuesday night.” Saying the words aloud – “Civic … Opera … House” – makes the prospect of the evening all the more intimidating.

The man’s smile widens to an eager grin. “Oh, you must,” he says. “You’ll have fun.” He steps forward slightly. “What do you sing?”

I find myself looking down. “Well,” I say. “Tenor, I guess.”

“Oh, you must,” the man says again.

“Well,” I say, still looking down. I’ve got enough Irish in me to sing in public at the drop of a hat but I’m not exactly blessed with an emerald sense of melody. “I don’t want to ruin it for everyone else.”

“But you won’t,” he says like he knows.

I sigh and look up. “I don’t have a trained voice.”

The man pauses, then smiles warmly. “You should do it,” he says. “I’m conducting.”

I can’t help but grin. I say I’ll take our encounter as a sign from Handel Himself that I should sing this 262-year-old masterwork. I ask the man his name and we shake hands.

“Tenor, eh?” Stanley Sperber says with a laugh. “I’ll remember to call on you for the solos.”

Flash-forward to December 2004: My boyfriend Robert Charles and I are standing in one of the crowded upper balconies of the Civic Opera House. I didn’t hesitate to sing again this year but I also didn’t feel completely comfortable until the Maestro stepped onto the podium, turned to the audience and encouraged all of us “to be not afraid.” Within minutes, the orchestra’s music and our 3,500 voices were filling the beautiful hall with an awesome wonder; indeed, the sopranos were once again sounding like angels.


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