Traverse City Record-Eagle


November 27, 2010

Whiffenpoofs folloed by Messiah Sing

Listen to Yale singers; join in on Handel

TRAVERSE CITY — Here's an opportunity that doesn't come along too often: Visit a local church to hear a renowned vocal ensemble. Come away inspired, wishing you could sing before an audience of hundreds. Return the next day and do exactly that.

Within a single weekend, Central United Methodist Church is hosting a one-time performance by the Whiffenpoofs of Yale and the community Messiah Sing, a double treat for choral music fans. It gets under way Saturday, Dec. 4, with the Whiffenpoofs program. The 32nd annual Messiah Sing is Sunday, Dec. 5.

"It's an exciting opportunity for the Traverse City community because it pairs a great local tradition with something new — a concert by a nationally known group that people might not otherwise have a chance to hear," said Jeff Cobb, the church's music director.

The Whiffenpoofs, the world's oldest a capella chorus, consist of 14 Yale University seniors. The all-male ensemble was established in 1909, beginning as a quartet that performed weekly at a campus tavern.

Their repertoire, according to the group's website, includes a wide variety of tunes, from Beatles love songs to spirituals and traditional Yale compositions. They've inspired countless other men's choruses, Cobb said.

"They've performed at Carnegie Hall, the White House, you name it. They've been around forever and been everywhere," he said.

An added bonus will be performances by two local ensembles: the Traverse City Central High School Choral-Aires and the Traverse City West High School Westmen.

The assistant director of the Whiffenpoofs, Adam Begley, is a graduate of Traverse City Central High School, where he sang with the Choral-Aires and continues to work locally with the Watermusic Chamber Singers. He's now a senior at Yale, majoring in music, and is the undergraduate conductor of the Yale Glee Club.

The show begins at 7:30 p.m. in the church sanctuary, located at 222 Cass St. Ticket prices are $25 for priority seating, $15 for adults and $10 for students and seniors. Proceeds will benefit the church's music program. Call 649-1003.

The Messiah Sing has become a holiday institution in Traverse City, featuring four professional soloists, a live orchestra and a chorus consisting of all who want to take part. It includes highlights from Handel's oratorio, one of the most beloved of all classical masterworks. There is no admission charge, but a free-will offering is taken to cover expenses.

"It's so beautifully conceived and wonderfully written that you never really tire of it," said Byron Hanson, a longtime faculty member and current archivist at Interlochen Center for the Arts, who will be conducting the performance for the 18th year.

The soloists include soprano Lynne Church, mezzo-soprano Wendee Wolf-Schlarf, tenor Isaac Hurtado and bass Jeffery Norris.

The performance gets under way at 4 p.m. Anyone wishing to join the chorus should attend a rehearsal that begins at 2:45. Scores are available at the church.

The eight choral works are: "And the Glory of the Lord;" "O Thou That Tellest Good Tidings to Zion," "Glory to God," "For Unto Us a Child is Born;" "Behold the Lamb of God," "Since by Man Came Death;" "Worthy is the Lamb" and the famed "Hallelujah."

It may seem a tall order with just one rehearsal, especially for first-timers. Hanson said no one should be intimidated.

"There are people every year for whom this is a new experience," he said. "We encourage them to give it a try. They'll be sitting with experienced singers who can help them get through it. This is a wonderful opportunity to be part of a large ensemble, to be in the midst of it, instead of simply listening from afar."

Plenty of seating will be available for people who prefer to listen instead of sing. Either way, "Messiah" — with its unforgettable melodies and text consisting entirely of biblical passages — is an inspiring work, especially during war and economic turmoil, Hanson said.

"In times of difficulty or stress," he said, "there's comfort in ritual, in being reassured by a great work of art."

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