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HU's Chamber Orchestra Shares the Spirit of Christmas

HU Orchestra and Choir Perform Handel's Messiah

If you are out and about on campus at night, you’ll probably hear the band practicing.  If you go to chapel on Sundays, you’ll see the choir.  But not many Hamptonians know about the university’s Chamber Orchestra.  Those who don’t know about the orchestra might wonder why so many students and Hampton residents, all dressed in their Sunday Best, flocked to Ogden Hall on Dec. 7.  The reason was the orchestra and the HU choirs combining for the 7th annual presentation of George F. Handel’s “Messiah.”  This year’s performance concluded the Department of Music’s 80th Anniversary.   

“The Messiah” is an oratorio that tells the story of Jesus’ life.  It has many movements, the most famous of which is the finale, the “Hallelujah Chorus.”   According to Chamber Orchestra Director Jerry Bracey, "The Messiah" is the orchestra’s biggest concert of the year. 

“It’s Christmas time and people are in the mood for this type of music.  It tells the story of the Savior which ties in with the spirit of Christmas,” he said.

The musicians in the Chamber Orchestra practiced twice a week since the semester began to prepare for the concert.  On Mondays and Thursdays, the violinists, violists, cellists and bassists were buried in their music stands amongst clouds of rosin in Armstrong. 

The closer it got to the concert, the more brutal the practices became. 

“This is mediocrity at its best!”
“Show the love!”
“Ba dee, ba dee, ba dee!”

Bracey’s catch phrases, some incomprehensible, seemed to interrupt the players after every measure they played.  He stopped them to fine tune everything from the notes to the bowings.  His pet-peeve for this concert was making sure the musicians were following his lead, better known as “The Baton.”  During the “Messiah”, the orchestra had to follow the lead of the soloists, so it was very important that they were watching for changes in tempo.

To simulate the concert, Bracey sang the parts of the soloists during practices.  Chamber Orchestra members like sophomore violinist Jennifer Reid think he should stick to conducting. 

“It makes everyone laugh,” she said.  “It lightens the mood.”

This was Reid’s second time performing the “Messiah.”  “My favorite part is the first movement.  It’s an attention grabber.”

Unlike the majority of the young orchestra, Reid had the advantage of recognizing the piece from her freshman year.  “It’s way easier.  Last year, I really had to work to get it, but it’s all coming back to me now.”

Reid agrees that the Messiah is their biggest concert of the year.  “I like combining with the choir.  A lot of people don’t really know about us, so it’s good exposure.”

On Dec. 7, Reid joined the rest of the orchestra on stage at Ogden Hall.  They played their hearts out for almost three hours with only a brief intermission, but Reid didn’t mind. 

“It’s all worth it,” she said.  “People from the area came out, and Ogden was packed.”

By the time they reached the finale, the Chamber Orchestra had sore arms and fingers and they were tired and hungry.  Even the audience was becoming restless.  But as soon as the Hallelujah Chorus filled the hall, people rose to their feet.  All thoughts of fatigue and discomfort vanished, and the musicians and audience alike were filled with emotion.

“It’s so peaceful,” Reid said.  “It reminds me of the spirit of Christmas.”

The Chamber Orchestra has concerts open to the public several times a year.  For more information about their schedule contact Jerry Bracey at jerry.bracey@hamptonu.edu or call (757) 727-6508.

-Krystan Hitchcock