The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Merry Christmas! At holiday time we gather to celebrate and we gather to make music, especially J.S. Bach’s “Christmas Oratorio” and George Frideric Handel’s “Messiah.” | December 25, 2011

By Jacob Stockinger

Most of the time during the year we treat music-making as more or less an individual activity even when it involves ensembles in chamber music, orchestral music and opera.

We generally seem to feel more comfortable when we recognize the individual talent and drive involved rather than the collective effort. We emphasize who stands out, not who blends in.

But then when the holidays come along, we shift of emphasizing soloists and individualism to the social bonding that happens through art and through music – which are indeed social as sell as individual acts. Just look at the amateur chorus singing along to “Messiah” below.”

This year has been an especially insightful one in underscoring that realization and phenomenon.

So to mark Christmas Day, this posting links to two terrific stories – both enjoyable and inspiring — that involve two individuals, professional and community members, who join together with others to make great music that is also appropriate to the occasion.

The first is a story that aired on NPR on Friday  The reporter talked to a single member of the ancient but restored St. Mary’s Church (below top is its exterior, below bottom is its interior) in Berlin, Germany, to find out what it means to sing J.S. Bach’s “Christmas Oratorio” every year.

It is a short but moving and insightful radio piece in which the source is everything and the reporter is just about invisible except for providing some background. The amateur musician speaks as eloquently as the music:

I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Here it is:

http://www.npr.org/2011/12/22/144078970/a-church-an-oratorio-and-an-enduring-tradition

The second piece aired last week on PBS’ NewsHour and featured prize-winning poet Mark Doty (below) reading one of his poems about a community sing-out of Handel’s “Messiah” at the Massachusetts seaside town where he lives.

It too is well done in both the words and the music with the added attraction of pictures or images.

I hope you enjoy this one too.

Here is a link:

http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/entertainment/july-dec11/messiah_12-21.html

And here is a truly massive community sing-along of the “Hallelujah” Chorus:


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