The objective of Musica Sacra’s Educational Outreach program is to engage young, New York City-based students in professional choral music of the highest caliber. Through the generous support of the Pierre and Tana Matisse Foundation, 500 tickets to our December 23, 2014, performance of Handel’s Messiah at Carnegie Hall were allocated to students and their families. Prior to the performance, students experienced an interactive presentation about the work led by Assistant Music Director Michael Sheetz and a chorister from Musica Sacra. The 50-minute presentation was made to 13 underserved schools and community centers in all five boroughs of New York City, and was developed to include several components that created a broad context for understanding and engaging in the music. In consultation with each participating teacher, the depth of information was adjusted to the age range and musical level of the students.
The following concepts were introduced to give a context for the history, style, and performance practice of Handel’s Messiah:
- George Frideric Handel and the times in which he lived.
- The oratorio style of telling a dramatic story on the concert stage through a discussion of the children’s understanding and experience of musical theatre and opera, and how this form of storytelling is told directly to the audience without singers playing a character in full costume and without staging, lights, and a pit orchestra.
- The forces required to perform an oratorio, including the chorus, orchestra, soloists, and conductor, and the teamwork needed to coordinate a performance through high-level listening and visual communication skills.
- The soprano, alto, tenor, and bass sections of the chorus and the parts of a Baroque orchestra, including the four instruments of the string section, so that students can look for and recognize what they will hear and see when they attend the performance.
- Andrew Carnegie and his philanthropic work in building Carnegie Hall, relating it to current, well-known, and socially conscious citizens, and how the beautiful and prestigious hall they will attend was born from a desire to give back to the community.
- The story of Messiah and its universal appeal for its musical genius in relating the themes of birth, struggle, and triumph, and how it can still be appreciated and loved across the boundaries of religious affiliation and age.
- Handel’s mark of genius in composing the three-hour-long Messiah in only 24 days; it was a commission — or homework assignment — that he had to finish on time.
- The Baroque style of word painting and flowery ornamentation and the variation of fast, slow, loud, and soft pieces throughout Messiah.
- The tradition of standing during the Hallelujah Chorus because the King of England stood at a premiere performance.
- Choral communication, through an activity for younger students in which they lift signs when cued by the conductor, to the recording of the Hallelujah Chorus; the phrases written on the signs were “Hallelujah,” “For the Lord God omnipotent reigneth,” “Forever,” “and Ever,” “King of Kings,” “and Lord of Lords,” for the purpose of simulating what it is like to participate in a chorus without actually singing. This activity was only used when visiting community centers that did not have an established music program.
A Musica Sacra chorus member participated in the presentation by discussing what it is like to perform as a member of the chorus and by singing excerpts from the work to the students, including such virtuosic parts as “For Unto Us a Child Is Born” and the solos “Rejoice Greatly,” “He Was Despised,” and “The Trumpet Shall Sound.” Time was reserved at the end of each class in order to give the students an opportunity to ask any questions that came to mind during the session.
The curricula were also developed to complement other concert programs presented by Musica Sacra. An interactive presentation on contemporary choral music was brought to the Juilliard Music Advancement Program, with tickets provided to our performance of new music at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine on March 4, 2015.
This program is made possible through the generous support of The Pierre and Tana Matisse Foundation.
This initiative was also made possible through the support of the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs.