Friday, January 6, 2012

Celebrating MLK Through Music [Stories from the Choir Part 1]

Save $10 on tickets to Too Hot to Handel: The Jazz Gospel Messiah by using code SOCIAL. Click HERE to purchase.

By Michelle Rathel

Picture this: there’s a new show premiering at the Auditorium Theatre in January 2006 with soloists Rodrick Dixon and Victor Trent Cook; we’re not too familiar with Alfreda Burke at this point, but it all sounds promising. There is also a birthday outing planned for a group to attend the premier of this new show. One of the birthday group members is a singer who loves Cook, Dixon and Young and is totally excited about this musical production. She also knows some of the choir and orchestra members in the show as well. Somehow, she missed the chance to be part of the choir, but wanted to not only see this one-time event, but to also support her fellow musicians and singers. She’s sitting in the audience, totally mesmerized and blown away by what she hears in front of her. She has done the Messiah more times than she can count and has even done some of the Quincy Jones’ version with vocal groups. But now there’s this new version – part jazz, part gospel, part original Handel, all great sounds that mesh together into a foot-tapping, hand-clapping, celebration that totally blows her away. Rodrick, Alfreda and Victor are totally off the chain. So begins the Too Hot to Handel “bug” that has taken Chicago by storm in the past few years, and that particular singer in the audience on that cold January afternoon has now been singing in Too Hot every year(except last season due to family challenges.)

And so the journey begins. She not only helps to spread the word about this marvel of a production, but also signs up to work as an Ambassador to assist the staff with marketing ideas, ticket sales and spreading the word. She has totally caught the “bug” and she comes back every year. She eagerly tells everyone she knows, and many she doesn’t know, about the best Messiah version since the original Handel. This “bug” is infectious – and it spreads each season, so there are many new faces in the audiences each year—and they keep coming! So here she is in January 2012 sharing her experiences with any who will read! She’s looking to keep this “bug” in circulation. It’s one that heals and spreads joy to all who attend, and it just keeps getting better and better.

This season has been especially special for me, as I had to miss singing in last season’s performances. But, I was in the audience with bells on, singing right along with my choir. It’s a good experience to be able to sit out to see how the music affects the audience, as we can barely see them depending on where the lights hit us while we’re on stage. I also got to see what the audience sees, and that helped me get back up there next time.

We’ve had some great “newbies” this year who have caught the “bug” and it’s been a pleasure working along them to rehearse each week. I’ve adopted several new members, coaching them, encouraging them, and just sharing with them to get them pumped and primed for the upcoming weekend. It’s a great feeling to be able to help the new members along and let them know that yeah – it’s a lot of music, and yeah we have to memorize some, but you’ll get it. I promise! You can’t help but get it – it’s so much fun! And soloist Karen Marie has been with us for, I think, her 3rd season and is doing a great job. She’s so much fun and the choir loves her energy.

Working with the Auditorium staff is the best. They take good care of their choir and Ambassadors, and keep things moving in the background. It’s so great to work with the Ambassadors and get groups in to see this production every year. On the Friday before the run, we have school groups come in to get a taste of this awesome music, making it an educational experience for them as well.

I would encourage everyone to at least see this show once in their lifetime. It literally sends you out feeling different from when you entered the theater. You drop all of your cares and just relax, release and get into the music. You smile for most of the show because the music hits you like that. And you might even shed a tear as one of the soloists hit notes that seem to float in the air, landing in every ear in the audience - moving them, inspiring them, encouraging them, embracing them, ministering to them and making them happy and carefree. As many times as I’ve done this show, I always learn something new, and I always hear something different that I didn’t hear before. This music keeps you moving and makes your whole being tingle and jump for joy when you hear it. Some of us come to rehearsals after a hard day at work and by the time we leave rehearsal we have a renewed energy and a second wind. The pressures of the day have floated away and we hum this music all the way home. And we keep humming all week, because it just hits you like that. You can’t let it go or put it down. That’s how you know you’ve got the “bug” and you can’t wait for next year. You don’t want to say goodbye to each other, and some of us choir members connect on Facebook and keep in any way possible until we come back together again in the Fall. The “bug” gets air born once again until next year, where new folks catch it and either sing or attend. And so on, and so on, and so on.

So here we are approaching the 2012 production. The choir has rehearsed, and Bill is working out some last minute details so that we are as polished a possible. Bill tends to bring something new to the table every year, so even the veterans don’t get bored with doing this show each season. You get hooked in a good way and you have to come back. Suddenly, it’s like you’re not complete until you get back to Too Hot choir rehearsals.

So we’ll see you there. Because you just have to experience this! You have to check it out. And you don’t have to call the doctor to take care of this “bug.” The music is all the “medicine” you’ll ever need.

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