A Celebration in Song

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— When Rebekah McBride was a little girl, she would play one of her favorite records again and again Joan Sutherland's "Messiah."

Today, she can't believe she's lived in Craig for more than 20 years and never knew Steamboat Springs held a performance of "The Messiah" for the past 30 years.

"I don't know how I missed it," McBride said of her six-week stint with the Yampa Valley Community Chorus.

Although McBride said she is an alto, listening to the old recording of Sutherland's "Messiah" in soprano has made her practice a little more than usual for a concert.

McBride said about six women from Craig carpool to the chorus rehearsals in Steamboat Springs to see familiar faces and sing.

McBride and many of her friends in this year's "Messiah" concert at Steamboat Springs High School also are members of Sweet Adeline's in Craig.

"I'm told there are other Craig people some singing and some in the orchestra," McBride said.

Conductor Robert Ritschel sat in his office at Colorado Mountain College's Alpine Campus Monday morning flipping through his book of music of "The Messiah" from 1912. The almost antique book showed penciled-in notes and a weathered spine.

"I've had it since high school," said Ritschel, opening another book of music.

For the past five years, Steamboat Springs Arts Council sponsors the production of Handel's "Messiah" near Christmas every other year.

The arts council decides who will conduct the Yampa Valley Community Chorus and the Steamboat Springs Chamber Orchestra for each year's production.

Ritschel conducted two concerts in the spring for the arts council and said his experience developed a natural step toward more conducting.

"I sort of used that as a spring board to determine if there was a possibility to do this in the fall," Ritschel said.

The oratorio Ritschel is conducting, "Messiah," is a large piece made up of three sections on the story of Jesus Christ: life, death and resurrection.

Much like a theatrical play or opera, composer George Frederick Handel's "Messiah" was reworked to consist of acts and subdivided scenes by a Handel admirer Charles Jennens.

An oratorio is a large choral composition usually dealing with a sacred topic or theme with orchestral accompaniment, Ritschel said.

George Frederick Handel wrote the piece in 1741 and 1742 but this year's "Messiah" concert will entertain only the first section about Christ's birth.

"It seems fitting around Christmas but (Handel's 'Messiah') is generally performed in the spring because of his resurrection," Ritschel said of the large choral composition.

The string orchestra will perform alongside the community chorus of 124 singers.

"Handel didn't have ideas of the full orchestras we have today," Ritschel said.

Mary Beth Norris, principal flutist for the Steamboat Springs Chamber Orchestra, said "The Messiah" was performed annually at the United Methodist Church years ago as just a choir. It wasn't until just nine years ago that the flute, the first instrument implemented as part of "The Messiah" in Steamboat (besides the organ), was introduced.

Norris said soon after it began growing to two flutes, then three, and then a violin and so on. Norris said because of this year's large choir, the orchestra accompanying them is about 30 musicians.

"The Messiah" first was performed in Dublin, Ireland, in 1742 and is considered Handel's most well-known piece.

When Handel's piece became increasingly popular in the last years of his life, instruments were created for new parts and others added members to the choirs creating a Handel misconception.

Ritschel said if the Yampa Valley Community Chorus would like to start up a Choral Society of some sort, then the arts council should sponsor a production for that group every year at Christmas.

At Monday night's rehearsal, Ritschel presented the community chorus with a survey that asked singers if they would like to begin a large group to perform more often than they do now.

"The group hasn't had a steady, ongoing program," Ritschel said. "You need to have something next year but maybe not 'The Messiah.'"

McBride said she would be interested in performing for another "Messiah" but because of her commitment to Sweet Adeline's in Craig, she said she's not sure how loyal she can be to a new Choral Society.

"One thing I need to do is practice more," McBride said of the upcoming concert.

Ritschel said many people only want to sing for the every-other-year "Messiah" concert, but he wants to create an avenue for people who want more of a life of singing.

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