Elijah: A Mighty Song for our Times – Guest Blog

From time to time, we invite a guest blogger to share their insights. In this installment, Janet – a member of the Symphonic Choir alto section – shares personal reflections on the role in her life of Mendelssohn’s Elijah.

To learn Elijah, Mendelssohn’s great oratorio, many of us acquired recordings to listen and sing to while we commute. If you see a Symphonic Choir singer in the car next to you, roll down your window. The music is glorious. One alto practices on an empty pier one misty morning over Eagle Creek lake. In a Pilates class, I audiate the “Thanks be to God” chorus to avoid thinking of how the springs in my apparatus might jettison me across the room if I release the pose too soon. As the music enters our memories, we become more and more aware of a great tapestry of harmonies and sound from the different chorus parts interweaving with the orchestra. The dramatic text, which came upon us so fast and furious in the beginning, forms an amazing story that seems increasingly relevant to our times.

I hike a nature preserve on the White River and come across a tree violently uprooted in the last flood. I think of how we might tell Elijah’s story in our own times

  • The revival of the widow’s son – my friend’s daughter with cystic fibrosis. Each time her lungs clog up and she is rushed to hospital, she is miraculously revived by the latest medical protocol, and picks up a normal life again.
  • Earthquake – the disastrous 7.9 magnitude earthquake in China in 2008, and its destruction of poorly built schools and the deaths of over 3 million children – and the heart-breaking art of Ai Weiwei in protest and remembrance.
  • Tempest – Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the loss of much of New Orleans, and the ensuing chaos.
  • Mighty winds – the Great Storm of 1987 with hurricane force winds in England and France that brought devastation and death in its path.
  • Fire – the deadly 2013 Kiss Nightclub fire in Brazil, with over 240 killed and nearly 170 injured.
  • Drought – Californians have surely being singing for rain these past 5 years. Their prayers were answered by rain deluges from atmospheric rivers in 2016.
  • Though thousands languish and fall beside thee, and tens of thousands around thee perish” brings an inevitable comparison with the tragedies of Syria and other conflicts around the world, always with the exhortation to “Be not afraid” to those in the midst of calamity.

Towards the end, Elijah dies with a dramatic entry into heaven in “a fiery chariot with fiery horses.” Mendelssohn ends with a final, beautiful chorus of acceptance and hope. The Indianapolis Symphonic Choir experienced the deaths of four of our members this season including during rehearsals for Elijah. One of those lost was wonderful sparkling Anita, our longtime alto section leader and a Symphonic Choir singer of 29 years. At her funeral, we sang two choruses from Elijah. Her memory hovers around us each time we rehearse those choruses. This Elijah will be sung with great heart and intensity, as the Choir remembers the wonderful singers no longer with us. This time, for the Choir, Elijah will be an even more special performance indeed.

For more information about the Friday, March 17, 2017 performance of Mendelssohn’s Elijah, click here.

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