Aspen Choral Society’s ‘Messiah’ Messiah returns for 42nd year |

Aspen Choral Society’s ‘Messiah’ Messiah returns for 42nd year

Shannon Asher
Special to The Aspen Times


What: Handel’s ‘Messiah,’ presented by Aspen Choral Society

Where: Grace Church, Basalt; Wheeler Opera House, Aspen; St. Stephen Catholic Church, Glenwood Springs

When: Friday, Dec. 13 Basalt; Saturday Dec. 14 Aspen; Sunday, Dec. 15 Glenwood Springs; all shows 7 p.m.

How much: $1-$15

Tickets and more info:

The Aspen Choral Society has been performing Handel’s “Messiah” for 42 years, becoming a holiday tradition that transcends religious affiliation.

“I don’t think you have to have any religious leaning or inclination to be able to appreciate yet another retelling of this classic story,” Choral Society music director and conductor Paul Dankers said of the Christ story in a recent phone interview.

With an undergraduate degree and a master’s degree in choral music education, Dankers is no stranger to the choral music world. After having taught vocal music education and music theory and composition for eight years in public schools, he is now in his sixth season as the music director for the Snowmass Chapel and the Aspen Choral Society.

“Even if you happen to think that the entire thing is fiction, it’s still a very compelling story,” Dankers said. “I think the music itself is also very compelling and worth the investment that it takes to adjust our modern ears to the music of another time.” The holidays can be tough for people, he noted. Whatever holiday one happens to be celebrating, even in the best of circumstances, it’s stressful. There’s a lot going on. The schedule gets tight, there is shopping to do, cookies to be baked, food to prepare, people to invite, etc. People can easily get overwhelmed with the holidays and Dankers hopes this tradition can relieve some of that stress.

“I always try to have the concert be a place where people can set all of that aside and just have this time where we can let our light and our love wash over them,” Dankers said. “This should be a time where they can just close their eyes and immerse themselves in the music, feel that lack of anywhere that they have to be, that lack of anything that they have to do, and just be present in that moment and enjoy what we have to offer them.”

With about 80 singers total, the choir is made up of locals from Aspen, Snowmass Village, Basalt, Carbondale, Glenwood and even as far away as Rifle and New Castle. For the past seven weeks, the choir has come together once a week to rehearse this hourlong performance. There are seven rehearsals and one dress rehearsal that culminate in three performances throughout the valley this weekend.

The Aspen Choral Society welcomes anyone who is interested in being involved. There is no audition process to join.

“Anybody can sing with us and we welcome anybody — even if they’re a brand-new singer or even if they have been told as a child that they can’t match pitch,” Dankers said. “I think that is utter nonsense for the most part. I’m amazed at how many people are told as children, ‘Just mouth the words because you can’t match pitch.’ There are so few human beings who are truly tone-deaf. The average person is neither tone-deaf nor unable to match pitch. It’s just a question of training and development.”

Part of Aspen Choral Society’s mission is to develop that ability in people and to give them the vocal training and musical training to be able to sing a piece like “Messiah.” Everyone is welcome to join regardless of whether they can read music or have vocal training or choir experience.

“I really work hard to make sure that this choir is loving and accepting of all voice types,” Dankers said. “That’s one of the first things that I tell the choir at the beginning of the process. We have people of many varying talents. I try to put people who have less experience next to people with more experience.”

The Aspen Choral Society works to foster a community of people who love and support each other rather than compete.

“I really think choral singing is one of the most egoless, most egalitarian things that we do,” Dankers said. “Most of the time when we do stuff, it’s to further ourselves. When you sing in the choir, you are subverting your own ego. Rather than being there so that you shine as an individual, you’re there to support the entire thing, that your sound actually fits inside the sound of all the other voices rather than standing out among the voices.”

These days, that in itself can seem like a miracle.

“I think that’s such a cool thing in this day and age,” Dankers said. “We’re all about our egos. It’s an amazing thing that all these people come together to not be noticed in the group.”

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