Juneau can 'Handel' the 'Messiah'

Posted: Friday, December 17, 2004

It was my great fortune and privilege to be part of the "Messiah" performances on Dec. 12 and 13. It was one of these things in the experience of life that leave you wondering if they really happened. The whole thing was so improbable - a number of chorists who all have busy lives, engineers and lawyers and administrators and technicians and tradesmen of all kinds, not to mention schoolchildren and college students, should all get together and some sing, some play their instrument, all together in harmony, making music as one, and then return to their lives quietly and busily the next day - the mind boggles.

In how many towns of 30,000 people is this even remotely possible? If the "Messiah" this weekend was the work of amateurs, it was the work of competent amateurs - not tedious, but inspiring and awesome. It proved that Juneau, on its own, with its own singers and its own musicians and its own conductor, is capable of outstanding work in the realm of the performing arts.

One very professional man is to thank for this - our conductor Todd Hunt. His energy and science of the music lent force and freshness to this age-old favorite. Juneau is truly fortunate to harbor such an accomplished musician, and the success of this "Messiah" is all his. A conductor doesn't simply give the tempo - he provides leadership in all aspects of the work, and his drive and energy are the life behind the togetherness of the orchestra and the singers. He was the true hero of this event.

But the thing that most boggles the mind is the people of Juneau. Both performances were packed. In the more powerful moments of the piece, I caught sight of some people who had tears in their eyes from the emotion and intensity of the music and of the faith it represented. Some were not merely congratulating us, but thanking us. In reality, we are the ones who are grateful. That such a modest town should have so much talent at its disposal is extraordinary, but to have so many people who appreciate and support it is nothing short of miraculous.

Yes, the most inspiring wonder of this year's "Messiah" event was not the musicians, the chorists and not even our excellent conductor: It was the life and joy of the Juneau audience.

• Philippe Damerval is a Juneauite and baritone.

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