January 2014 Volume 11

A Magnificent Performance Of 'Messiah'

Reprinted from Jamaica Gleaner
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Michael Reckord, Gleaner Writer

Here's a 'money-back' recipe for a successful concert.

Select a universally acclaimed musical composition. Add one of Jamaica's best school choirs and a handful of professional soloists. Obtain some of our top instrumentalists to accompany them. Rehearse for three months.

That's what the organising committee for the Kingston College Chapel Choir and its conductor, Audley Davidson, did last year.

The result is the choir's magnificent musical feast of Christmas concerts, which began last month and are scheduled for a January 12 end.

Excerpts from Handel's Messiah, the world's most popular oratorio, form the centerpiece of the concert programme. First performed in Dublin, Ireland, in 1742, the work is in three parts and has a text compiled by Charles Jennens from various Bible passages.

There have been three performances to date. The most recent one was on December 29 at the Church of St Mary the Virgin, Molynes Road.
The final one will be on Sunday, January 12, at St John's Anglican Church Hall in Ocho Rios.

Some 40 boys and men - for the chapel choir comprises both present and past KC students - perform the oratorio itself, which occupies the first half of the concert.

In the first performance at UWI, it was superbly delivered and rapturously received by the audience.
While it was being performed by the 40, another 15 choir boys were seated close by, listening but not taking part. Why? Davidson explained to The Sunday Gleaner that it was to prevent an imbalance in the precise mix of trebles, altos, tenors and basses he wanted for the oratorio.

The 15 boys do join the 40 for part two of the programme, which features just under 20 Christmas songs and carols. This second half is divided into five sections, four of which are named in the printed programme.

In the first, the unnamed section, are the songs Come Emanuel Come (by Don Besig), which sees the choir marching while singing, and Masters in This Hall, by David Willcocks. The themes of the songs in the named sections are suggested by their names: 'Angels sing his birth', 'Shepherds go to the manger', 'Mary and the baby', and 'Spirit of good cheer'.

Professionals singing with the choir include Danielle Watson, soprano; John McFarlane, tenor; Barry Bellamy, bass; and Raehann Bryce-Davis, mezzo soprano.

The last named is of particular interest as she has Jamaican parentage and is an acclaimed performer in the United States, where she lives.
This fact, as well as her beautiful, dramatic singing during the first of the concerts caused this reporter to ask Davidson about her.

The conductor had this to say: "The boys (of the choir) adore her. Rehearsing with her gave them extra 'oomph.' She has a warm personality and though she's a diva, she is without the airs that often go with being a diva."

Davidson also said that it took "lots of drilling" to get the choir - especially the new boys who only started school this year - to reach the level of excellence in Messiah that they have been getting praise for. Rehearsals were mainly twice-weekly from September, he said.

One grade 11 chorister, Nicklaus Farr, said that he had joined the choir in Grade 7 but had left for a while, because he "didn't appreciate the music." He had returned, he said, despite the hard work involved, because "it all came together" when he sat in the audience at a school concert and listened to his schoolmates. He rejoined the choir and now enjoys both the music and the "brotherhood" of the group.

Steven Jackson, a KC alumnus now studying law at the UWI, also mentioned the camaraderie as one reason he has remained with the choir. In addition, he said, he found the music, not only "exciting and different", but it helped him to study.

With a 15-minute intermission, the concert lasts just a shade under three hours.

Unfortunately, Watson will not be performing at the last of the concerts, having left the island to further her musical studies.

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