Handel’s Messiah: 50 Years of Memories
By Sarah WilberTweet
As the Group Sales Coordinator at UMS, I speak with UMS concertgoers each year in late summer who are looking to book their group reservations as soon as possible. Without fail, several of these calls are for our annual presentation of Handel’s Messiah. As Delores Forsmark and I were speaking about her reservation this year, she shared with me that she and her husband have attended the Messiah performance for more than 50 years. I asked Delores if she would consider sharing some favorite experiences with us, and her husband Bert sent me a wonderful letter explaining how significant this holiday tradition has become for them.
Bert first heard the piece in its entirety after receiving the LP as a Christmas gift from his brother. Delores and Bert began attending the Messiah together in 1958, when Delores was a student at the University of Michigan. He and Delores have made the drive from Flushing, sometimes even in harsh winter snow and ice storms, almost each year since then. Bert writes, “Except for a few times when our kids were small, we have attended performances at Hill Auditorium (or the Michigan Theater, during the renovation) almost without exception, always with guests.”
Ever since that first interaction with the piece, the Forsmarks feel a special connection with the Messiah. Bert told me about how a painting he and Delores purchased, Dali’s Crucifixion, made him remember the lyrics “All we like sheep have gone astray: we have turned every one to his own way…”. Bert recalls, “That was in 1965, and as I sit here typing this, I still weep.”
Bert and Delores’ most memorable Messiah performance was in 1983. Having attended with 42 of their fellow church members and their pastor, Bert recalls how the soprano soloist that year brought a new significance to the performance. He still vividly remembers the passion she brought to the piece: “When she sang ‘Rejoice, rejoice, rejoice greatly’, her face glowed, and the audience rejoiced with her. She easily stole the show, and was the talk of the whole busload.” That soloist was Kathryn Bouleyn, also known as Kathryn Day, who previously performed in the Messiah at UMS in 1976, 1977, and 1978.
At UMS, we know that many of you share the Forsmarks’ appreciation for our annual production of the Messiah. Dr. Andrew Berry has also been attending for more than 50 years – he writes, “This is the beginning of my Christmas season every year. We always have a group, and we carpool to have dinner afterwards.” So what are your favorite memories? What is it about this performance that makes it so special for you? What are you most looking forward to when you walk into Hill Auditorium this year? We hope you’ll share your stories, and we look forward to starting up the holiday season with you this weekend.
It used to be that I found the repeated Amens at the conclusion to be tedious, but now I hear them as joyous Amens rolling through the heavens when the redeemed are gathered as the parts are sung, and at the conclusion sigh and say, ‘Only 364 days until the next one.’ -Bert Forsmark