‘Messiah’ tradition continues in Glenwood Springs, Aspen

Stina Sieg
Post Independent Staff
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Kara K. Pearson Post Independent

Around the valley, Christmas traditions are as diverse as the ever-evolving population. For more than 150 singers in the Aspen Choral Society, this time of year means one thing for certain: yet another production of Handel’s “Messiah.”

“It’s just a magnificent performance,” said Barbara Palmer, an alto who has participated for seven years.

What consistently amazes her, she said, is just how seamless the group’s sound is every performance. A member of the Glenwood section of the chorus, she and 70 or so others practice separately from the Aspen singers until, just days before opening night, they join together in rehearsal.

“It’s just an awesome sound we produce,” Palmer said, adding, with a slight giggle: “Honestly, all of a sudden, we think we sound like the Mormon Tabernacle Choir!”

Behind the decades of song is Ray Vincent Adams, the group’s director, conductor and composer-in-residence. Since moving to the area 30 years ago, Adams has staged a “Messiah” production every Christmas, without fail. Each season, he said, the show takes on a new form. In recent years, the all-volunteer, no-audition-necessary choir has swelled to an unofficial count of 167. What he started on a lark now includes singers from all over the valley and orchestra players from across the country.

“I just love them to death,” he said, of the entire crew. “I love them. They’re great.”

In his jovial way, Adams, 55, kidded around about his age as he told stories of “Messiah”s gone by. He has fond memories of his son, Spencer, now 20, as a toddler, crawling around the pews during a church practice. Adams spoke of the year the performance was televised, with a solo from a nervous John Denver. “John, you’ll be fine. Have another shot of port,” Adams jokingly recalled.

His favorite moment, however, has to be directing the show during a season when both his son and son’s mother, Karen Nye, performed together. In a way, he said, the group has grown into a large family. More than applause, it’s that sense of togetherness that keeps him going, up and down the valley, for months of practice.

“It’s always nice to have a full house,” he said, “but it’s the rehearsals where you really get to know each other.”

When asked if, after 30 years, the show will still feel new, he answered not to worry. Every season, he tweaks the style, diction or mood ” anything and everything to make the production unique. He said that he may feel old at times, but, to him, “Messiah” never seems to.

“It’s fresh ” I’m not,” he laughed. “I’m a little wilted, but I’ll be OK!”

Contact Stina Sieg: 384-9111

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