Aspen Choral Society celebrates 40 years of ‘Messiah’ |

Aspen Choral Society celebrates 40 years of ‘Messiah’

Choir members, led by director Paul Dankers, rehearse at Grace Church in 2014 for Handel's "Messiah."
Aubree Dallas |


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

When: Thursday, Dec. 14 through Sunday, Dec. 17

Where: Snowmass Chapel (Dec. 14); Basalt Middle School (Dec. 15); Wheeler Opera House, Aspen (Dec. 16) and St. Stephen Catholic Church, Glenwood Springs (Dec. 17)

How much: $15/advance; $20 at the door

Tickets: Wheeler box office;

The Aspen Choral Society is celebrating 40 years of George Handel’s “Messiah” with its annual tour of the Roaring Fork Valley.

Toasting the Christmas season and four decades of local performances, the tour opened Thursday with a performance at the Snowmass Chapel in Snowmass Village, and will be followed by stops in Basalt, Aspen and Glenwood Springs.

Choral Society music director Paul Dankers has said that the long-running tradition has given his choir a rare expertise and ability to fine-tune the intricacies of Handel’s masterpiece.

“When you’ve got a group of people that’s been singing for this long, it gives you the luxury of dealing in things that most directors don’t have time for,” Dankers told The Aspen Times last year.

It’s the fifth year conducting “Messiah” for Dankers, who holds a master’s in vocal music education and serves as music director at Snowmass Chapel. He aims to blend the voices of his singers to perfection.

“Consonants are like the spice that’s thrown into the dish,” Dankers said, “but the meat and potatoes are the vowels. Everybody has a different sound and shape to their vowels, so you have to spend a lot of time unifying them in order to get them to blend.”

It’s a tedious process, but the singers have taken to it eagerly.

“What I’ve discovered is that the choir really likes to be challenged,” Dankers said. “The more I give them, the happier they are.”

While the Choral Society’s annual spring concert gives the singers an opportunity to broaden their horizons, “Messiah” is a chance to strive for perfection.

“It’s the piece people expect,” he explained. “It’s a tradition. We get more singers, and we get more attendance. When you join yourselves together like that, there is something that could be called spiritual.”

Although it was written decades before the Declaration of Independence, the piece — particularly the hallelujah chorus — remains recognizable and, Dankers thinks, comparatively accessible.

“Baroque music is a long way off for our modern ears, but I think ‘Messiah’ stands as an example of some of the highest work that we’re capable of achieving,” he explained. “You have over 100 people in this valley giving their time and talent to be part of a greater whole. I feel like we need something that defines us as noble, as artistic, as having a higher self. It shows that we are capable of something greater than what we see on the news.”

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