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December 2, 2010

Michigan Messiah: Jesse Blumberg, baritone

By Jesse Blumberg

It’s Messiah week at UMS–and extra special this year is our cast of soloists–all have Michigan connections! Some are Michigan natives, some are alumni from U-M’s School of Music, Theatre & Dance, and some are both!

This week, we will feature a post from each Messiah soloist, where they will reflect on what it means to return to Michigan and sing in our annual tradition of Handel’s Messiah!

So, I’m the last to chime in here…I have both the advantage of having read my colleagues’ posts and the disadvantage of having to avoid duplicating their sentiments.  Regardless, I’ve been awash in Michigan memories all week, in preparation for this weekend’s concerts.  So many sights and sounds come to mind, but I’m mostly left with feelings of anticipation and excitement for my return.

Unlike my friends Caitlin, Meredith, and Nicholas, I am not a Michigan native, and did not actually meet Dr. Blackstone until my college years.  Though I’ve been an East-Coaster all my life, I am one of those (few million?) UM grads who will always consider Ann Arbor a second home.  I have been back for events at the School of Music and recitals at Kerrytown Concert House many times since graduating in 2001, and I always feel the familiar warmth of the town, campus, and people.

One building I’ve not entered in many years, however, is Hill Auditorium.  And it’s with a certain degree of reverence, and responsibility, that I think I’ll walk onto its stage this weekend.  I wasn’t a complete ignoramus at age 18 – I knew enough about UMS and about Hill to know I had better line up outside the Bell Tower early in the morning on my first weekend at school, if I wanted to take advantage of discounted tickets for UMS’s season of world-class presentations.  But it wasn’t long before the majestic Hill became to us the Hill where we went to rehearse and perform our concerts.  It was always a special occasion, of course, but did we really know HOW special?  Did we know that out in the real world there are only a handful of venues that compare to Hill Auditorium?  We must have just assumed that our counterparts at Juilliard were constantly walking on and off the stage at Carnegie.

Even walking past Hill on the way to class became an everyday occurrence.  And maybe not fully appreciating things from so close up is part of the college experience.  But I do expect to walk through the stage door with a newfound sense of wonderment this weekend.  After all, I’ll be entering one of the world’s greatest concert halls.

In addition to the great honor of returning to Hill Auditorium as a soloist, it is also a thrill to be back under the baton of the inimitable Jerry Blackstone.  And just because I didn’t meet him while in high school doesn’t mean that he didn’t have an enormous impact on my growth and development as a musician.  In fact, much of my early career in New York was spent on the professional choral scene, where the skills I honed at Michigan proved invaluable.  And let’s not forget the lessons we learned in Dr. Blackstone’s conducting class, which have also come in very handy in some dicey situations…

Luckily for all of us, however, Jerry will be the one wielding the baton this weekend, and I, for one, can’t wait for that first downbeat!


Jesse Blumberg is the baritone soloist in this year’s Messiah. He is an alumnus of the U-M School of Music, Theatre & Dance.