All posts in “Choir”

Wrestling with a masterpiece

A writer crumples under the weight of Handel’s Messiah, until …

By Jessi Uran 

What on earth was I thinking? I can’t write this.

I stared at the computer screen for what seemed like the 50th time in three weeks. I’d scribbled research notes on three different pages and formed five different outlines, only to fill a garbage can with what I emphatically told my husband was “mediocre rubbish, not worthy of a garbage can.” (Dramatic much?)

Writer’s block is not uncommon for me. But this was different. It was less of a block and more of an unscalable, cement wall. The task was simple, really: Write about Handel’s Messiah. I could take it any direction I wanted and write in whatever form. There were no expectations, no criteria. Just a deadline.

Autographed composition draft of ‘Amen Chorus’ from British Library Treasures

Not only did my father used to play Handel’s Messiah every Christmas season on our family’s living room stereo, but I also had heard it performed live last year, in the annual concert by the Rockford Choral Union. Listening to the product of their countless hours of practice and dedication had left an indelible mark. To begin, there seemed no more festive way to usher in the season of Advent than in the reverent architecture of Emmanuel Lutheran Church. Experiencing history in this way, with people young and old, and hearing the scriptural account in such grandeur was awe-inspiring.

The concert left me with a conviction: In a somewhat disciplinary way, I need to carve time to sit, listen and behold the wonder of Immanuel. At Christmas, ironically, the act of sitting and listening often gets lost in all the things there are to do. Deep joy came from spending an afternoon doing nothing other than marveling corporately at the story of the Savior.

And then a moment of … what?! During a Part 2 tenor solo from Lamentations — “Behold, and see if there be any sorrow” — a woman up the aisle from me decided to clip all 10 fingernails. At the same instant, a man four rows up raised his hands in complete rapture. I judged Madame Fingernails immediately, but days later I began to wonder: How many awe-deserving things do I treat just as flippantly?

All of this musing swirled uncategorized for the past year, until at our writers meeting a few weeks ago we tossed around the idea of a Thanksgiving-week piece about George Frideric Handel’s Messiah. My reaction was the equivalent of a grade school, “Ooh, me! Ooh, pick me, pick me!”

When they did, I had already started formulating it.

“Fantastic! There are a couple of different directions I might go. I’m so excited!”

• • •

Weeks later, nothing. I walked away from the computer and put on another pot of coffee. As if caffeine will make the writing flow. If that were the case, I’d have written an entire issue of The New Yorker by now. I could still hear my writing mentor’s words over the phone when I expressed the nervousness taking over: “Don’t freak out about this. You don’t have to actually write Handel’s Messiah. You are just going to write about it. Don’t overthink it.”

Wise words. Deaf ears. Seven drafts and two weeks later, there I sat. Freaking out and overthinking were about the only things I was accomplishing. The more I tried to convey the glory of the piece … the more I tried to attain the level of sanctity or the loftiness of topics like art and beauty … the further paralyzed I became.

Handel wrote the entire oratorio in 24 days. 24 DAYS! You’ve been at one article longer than that! What is WRONG with you?!

I glanced at my notes, hoping maybe to catch a spark, anything that could produce the spectacle I had built in my mind. The top page of my research, in bold letters, expressed Handel’s description of his artistic process in 1741.

“I felt as though I saw all of heaven opened up before me.”

I threw my pen down.

Good for you, Handel. Good. For. You. Because I’ve shown up here every day and have done the work but all I see opened before me is a blank Word document with a blinking cursor and a pile of dishes in the sink.

• • • 

“Looks like you’re being too hard on yourself.”

My husband kissed my furrowed brow and carried our daughter upstairs to bed. He was right, of course. My 4-year-old never has thoughts that she isn’t hitting the mark. In fact, days before she had run to me with a drawing of a rainbow and flowers and proclaimed, “Look! It’s my masterpiece!”

I grabbed a fifth-grade level library book titled, The Life of Handel. I had checked it out with my daughter in a last-ditch effort for inspiration. As I turned each page and read about Handel’s childhood, his schooling, relationships and work, the realization hit me.

He was just a man.

George Frideric Handel (1685-1759)

He was just a man! True, he was prolific and talented, but in my mind’s eye I had built him up as a saint, an artist who heard directly from the pipeline of heaven. My writing would need to emulate this, I thought. But in these pages of his everyday life? Not everything he touched turned to gold. So, if Handel didn’t put the Midas pressure on himself … why should I?

As this realization sunk deeper into my mind that night, pieces began to move. Words started to form. Light began to shine. So I typed the first thing I didn’t feel like throwing away all month. Just a few phrases, really, not nearly enough for an article. But it was a start.

Oh Lord. This I see.

Your Holiness desired to dwell amidst our sinfulness.

Perfect amidst the imperfect.

Whole amidst the broken.

We could not pave the way for you with any merit of our own. But nothing kept you at arm’s length, waiting until we attained something. You came down because you knew we could attain nothing.

This is what we celebrate and this why over all the world choirs sing.

Because on our own, we are just men and women.

But under the banner of risen Messiah …

We are pure as gold.

• • •

I closed the computer and went to bed. The next morning, my deadline still waited. But it seemed less weighty.

I know I am not alone in this battle of letting perfect be the enemy of good. It’s especially easy to succumb to worldly pressures at Christmas season: “Bring your best or bring it not at all!” But in the face of that, the true story of the redeemed is the opposite kind of cry. We hear the heart of our Savior call:

Bring me what you have and worry not about the rest.

So I did the work of editing and rewriting, but now with less self-loathing —entrusting the author and perfector of my faith to take what I had, and do with it what he wanted.

Handel said of Messiah, “I do not wish to entertain them, but to make them better.”

Two hundred seventy-eight years later, with dishes still in the sink, a writer wrestled with it all and was made better in a way she did not expect.

• • •

The Rockford Choral Union will perform Handel’s Messiah Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 30 and Dec. 1, at Emmanuel Lutheran Church. Six people from First Free are taking part. Here’s a closer look, and our interview with Conductor Michael Beert.

Featured image illustration by Nathan McDonald, based on painting by Philip Mercier.

 

Patriotic Celebration marks 50th milestone

Our annual Patriotic Celebration received more buzz than ever this year as we celebrated 50 years of honoring our military heroes and thanking God for the true freedom we have in Jesus Christ.

To help recognize the big milestone, we invited all former choir and orchestra directors back for the celebration. We’ve had six directors in total during that time:

  • Bruce Erickson (1970-1983)
  • Otis Skillings (1984-1989)
  • Doug Thiesen (1990-1998)
  • Renee Cooper (1999 to 2001)
  • Kristyn Thor (2002)
  • Eric Walker (2003-2007)
  • Renee Cooper (2008 to present)

Renee Cooper, who serves as our classic worship director, was our director again this year and is the longest-serving director in the group. Bruce Erickson, our first director, attended this year’s festivities, and a few others were unable to attend but did send us videos sharing wonderful memories of the event.

According to Bruce, Patriotic Celebration started in 1970 as a way to bring together a divided country/community during the Vietnam War. It was a positive offering and initially took place at the Sinnissippi Park Music Shell – sometimes after the Fourth of July and sometimes in June. The celebration began with one night, was eventually expanded to three nights, and then scheduled for two nights once it moved to the current First Free Rockford main campus.

In addition to special outreach for past directors, we also invited all former choir and orchestra participants to celebrate with us this year. We had people join us from many states, including Texas, Florida, Michigan and South Carolina. More than 200 volunteers total helped organize and participated in the event, and over 2,100 people attended the celebration performances.

The color guards from the Winnebago County Sheriff’s Department and the Rockford Police Department presented the colors both nights, and our procession of veterans was once again a highlight for the crowd. A freewill offering collected during the program are being divided between three local veterans’ nonprofits: The Veteran’s Drop-in Center, the Oscar Mike Foundation and Brightening Veteran’s Lives (Vietnam Veterans of America – Chapter 984 Rockford).

50th Patriotic Celebration

50th Patriotic Celebration – Saturday

Join us for our 50th Annual Patriotic Celebration.

Friday and Saturday, June 28t and 29 at 6:30 p.m. (doors open at 5:30 p.m.)

We hope you will join us for the 50th Annual Patriotic Celebration – as we continue the tradition of celebrating our heritage, honoring our Veterans and Military and thanking God for the true freedom we have in Jesus Christ!

The program will feature a large choir and full orchestra presenting our favorite Patriotic songs.  We will be reminiscing and hearing from the Music Directors that have continued this tradition through the years.  A free dessert reception will follow each evening’s program.  We will have displays from Local Veteran Organizations for you to peruse, as well.

A free-will offering will be collected during the program.  This year – the offering will be divided between 3 local Veteran Non-Profits:  The Veteran’s Drop-in Center, the Oscar Mike Foundation, and Brightening Veteran’s Lives (Vietnam Veterans of America – Chapter 984 Rockford).

Childcare available for children age 5 and under.

Volunteer Info
50th Patriotic Celebration

50th Patriotic Celebration – Friday

Join us for our 50th Annual Patriotic Celebration.

Friday and Saturday, June 28t and 29 at 6:30 p.m. (doors open at 5:30 p.m.)

We hope you will join us for the 50th Annual Patriotic Celebration – as we continue the tradition of celebrating our heritage, honoring our Veterans and Military and thanking God for the true freedom we have in Jesus Christ!

The program will feature a large choir and full orchestra presenting our favorite Patriotic songs.  We will be reminiscing and hearing from the Music Directors that have continued this tradition through the years.  A free dessert reception will follow each evening’s program.  We will have displays from Local Veteran Organizations for you to peruse, as well.

A free-will offering will be collected during the program.  This year – the offering will be divided between 3 local Veteran Non-Profits:  The Veteran’s Drop-in Center, the Oscar Mike Foundation, and Brightening Veteran’s Lives (Vietnam Veterans of America – Chapter 984 Rockford).

Childcare available for children age 5 and under.

Volunteer Info

Community Choir Festival 2019

Register Now

 

First Free Rockford is once again hosting a Community Choir Festival with Dr. Gary Bonner. If you like to sing, then this is for you! On Friday and Saturday, February 22 and 23, singers from all around the region will come together in one mighty chorus, and we want you to join us! Rehearsals are Friday evening 7:00–9:30 p.m. and Saturday 9:00 a.m.–3:00 p.m. Then on Saturday at 6:00 p.m. there will be a free Community Choir Concert.

Singers

Don’t miss the thrill of being a part of this large community choir made up of singers of all ages from all over the mid-west. We will sing, laugh, and learn together. The weekend culminates with a free concert for our community.

For Singers of all levels and musical talents. Everyone learns something!

Directors

If you are looking to infuse joy, energy, and passion into your music program, then this is a weekend that you and your singers simply shouldn’t miss!

Pricing

REGISTER NOW!Lunch on Saturday is included in registration fees below.

EARLY BIRD RATE – thru Nov 30, 2018
$25 – Adults
$15 – Students (for Student Pricing -use Promo code CCF2019)

REGULAR RATEbeginning Dec 1, 2018
$30 – Adults
$20 – Students (for Student Pricing -use Promo code CCF2019)

If you have questions, please call Renee at 815-877-7046 or email her.

 

Videos from Last Year

 

Community Choir Festival

Community Choir Festival

Community Choir Festival

First Free Rockford is once again hosting a Community Choir Festival with Dr. Gary Bonner. If you like to sing – then this is for you!

Dr. Gary Bonner conducting the choir

On Friday and Saturday, February 2 & 3, singers from all around the region will come together in one mighty chorus, and we want you to join us! Rehearsals are Friday evening 7-9:30pm and Saturday 9am-3pm. (Lunch is included in your registration fee)

Then on Saturday at 6pm will be a free Community Choir Concert.

Singers:

Don’t miss the thrill of being a part of this large community choir made up of singers of all ages from all over the mid-west. We will sing, laugh, and learn together. The weekend culminates with a free concert for our community.

For Singers of all levels and musical talents. Everyone learns something!

Directors:

If you are looking to infuse joy, energy, and passion into your music program, then this is a weekend that you and your singers simply shouldn’t miss!

 

If you have questions, please call Renee Cooper at (815) 877-7046 or email reneec@firstfreerockford.org

 

Register Online

 

Choir receiving instruction

Dr Bonner

Chorale Workshop

JOIN US FOR THE 2017 COMMUNITY CHOIR FESTIVAL!

REGISTRATION

REGISTRATION BEGINS DECEMBER 1, 2016 Deadline to register is February 1, 2017

  • Early Bird Discount (if paid by Jan. 1, 2017): $5 off per singer
  • Regular Registration Fee (after Jan. 1, 2017): $30 Adult singers / $20 Students
  • Group Rate Groups of 10+ call for additional discount information!

SCHEDULE

Friday and Saturday Feb 10th – 11th:

  • Friday Rehearsal 7:00pm – 9:30pm
  • Saturday Rehearsal 9:00am. – 3:00pm (Lunch Provided)
  • Saturday Community Choir Concert 6:00pm FREE ADMISSION

SPECIAL GUEST

Bonners 2016
DR. GARY BONNER
Dr. Gary Bonner is an internationally recognized conductor and trainer of conductors. He has what is described as an “intangible magic” when it comes to creating choral music, a sound and experience that is related to the connection between the conductor, performers, and audience, creating an elusive, yet identifiable, quality which makes a performance come alive.  Dr. Bonner is in great demand as a teacher of both choir directors and singers. He has trained over 700 conductors in his intensive week-long conducting seminars and touched thousands in his weekend choir workshops which have been offered across the United States and Canada. In addition, Dr. Bonner has been regularly invited to offer workshops at major music conferences such as MusiCalifornia, Music Northwest, Christian Artists at Estes Park Colorado, Gospel Music Conference in Nashville, Music Minnesota, Hosanna Music Conference, Music Iowa, Spartanburg, Ridgecrest, Glorietta, Metro Music, and the National Church Music Conference.  His philosophy that music is for the masses, not just a select few, permeates his emphasis on communication and relationship through music.  Dr. Bonner and his wife Pat have been active in Christian ministry through music and teaching for the 55 years of their marriage.  It is our privilege to welcome Dr. Bonner back to First Free Rockford for another exciting Choir Workshop.

QUESTIONS

For further information contact:

Renee Cooper
Renee Cooper
Classic Worship Director
reneec@firstfreerockford.org
(815) 877-7046 x 6714