Aspen Choral Society’s virtual ‘Messiah’ premieres online Wednesday

Staff report


The Aspen Choral Society wasn’t going to let the Christmas season pass without its annual performance of Handel’s “Messiah,” a Roaring Fork Valley tradition now in its 43rd year.

In this pandemic year, a “Messiah 360” performance will take place this year as a virtual choir event on YouTube. The Aspen Choral Society has been performing the holiday favorite in Aspen, Basalt and Glenwood Springs since 1977.

Music director Paul Dankers led the initiative to craft the virtual experience.

“We knew we had to do something unique to maintain our long tradition of ‘Messiah’ performances while also doing our part to keep our singers and community safe,” Dankers said in an announcement. “‘Messiah’ is not only a local holiday favorite, but an essential experience for our outstanding vocal and instrumental musicians. We couldn’t miss it because of COVID.”

Due to COVID-19 social distancing restrictions and the high risk of transmission in choirs, this year’s “Messiah” will offer an innovative twist on the beloved performance, inspired by the emergence of virtual choirs on YouTube and other online outlets. Unlike other static or electronically generated backgrounds seen in many virtual choirs, Aspen Choral Society is taking advantage of the scenic Roaring Fork Valley to provide the backgrounds and visual effects that will add dimension to the recorded voices of the choir members.

In addition, Dankers is using technology that will allow the viewer to experience the choir performance in 360 degrees. The program will be released on the Aspen Choral Society’s YouTube channel on Wednesday.

“Historically, our in-person rehearsals have always been very efficient – we gather, warm up, quiet our minds, and sing,” Dankers said. “This type of professionalism, which has always been displayed by the choir, has aided us in our transition from a social choir to a virtual one.”

He said he hopes that ACS’s movement to a virtual platform this season allows its music to reach beyond the Roaring Fork Valley to a broader, more diverse audience than in the past. The new experience of creating “Messiah 360” this year has another advantage, Dankers said: “I’ve been so fortunate to get to know so many of our members on a more individual basis, working one-on-one rather than in a large group.”

Choir member Tamela Kenning echoed Dankers’ excitement for the project.

“Our ACS musicians have embraced this opportunity to sing together even though we can’t meet in person,” Kenning said. “It is our shared love of tradition and musicianship, and a commitment to each other that is driving everyone’s willingness and courage to try something new. It’s thrilling to be part of it.”


What: ‘Messiah 360,’ presented by Aspen Choral Society

When: Premiering Wednesday, Dec. 23, 7 p.m.

Where: Aspen Choral Society channel on YouTube

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