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Redwood Empire ‘Sing-Along Messiah’ heads to YouTube

This year marks Dan Earl’s 40th as conductor of the Santa Rosa Symphony League’s annual “Sing-Along Messiah” concert, but this performance will be unlike any other.

This year, with mass gatherings canceled because of the coronavirus, the celebration will be presented for free on YouTube, premiering at 3 p.m. on Dec. 20.

“What we’re doing is putting together a virtual ‘Hallelujah’ chorus that’s going to play at the end of a section of memories from the past,” Earl said.

The program includes footage of the late longtime conductor Eugene Shepherd leading the orchestra in the “Sing-Along Messiah” concert, as well as other highlights from past years.

“We have video, and the oldest is from 1984. I’ll give an introduction and say something at the end,” Earl said.

For many, the high point of George Frideric Handel’s “Messiah” oratorio, composed in 1741 to tell the life story of Jesus Christ in music, is the thunderous “Hallelujah” chorus.

In an unusual move, organizers invited more than 90 individual singers to record themselves separately performing the “Hallelujah” chorus to the orchestral soundtrack provided.

The individual performances will be electronically compiled into a single chorus by Ryan Brady, a past participant in the sing-along and a former student of Earl’s.

“At the end, we’ll have a virtual ‘Hallelujah’ chorus, and we’ll encourage our viewers to sing along at home,” Earl said.

Earl, 77, taught music at Santa Rosa High School for 28 years, until his retirement in 2005, and many of students remain his fans. Earl also led the Santa Rosa Symphonic Chorus for seven years some four decades ago, and again from 2000 to 2014.

Brady, now 41 and living near Boston, attended Santa Rosa High from 1995 and 1998 and sang with Earl’s choir and chamber singers. Now a composer for TV and film, with credits ranging from the Olympics to “Pawn Stars,” Brady also has worked as a software programmer for the past decade.

“He is a gem, and I was lucky to have had him as a student,” Earl said of Brady.

Last June, Brady produced a virtual performance of “The Lord Bless You And Keep You,” compiled from individual recordings by more than 180 alumni of the Santa Rosa High School choir for an online reunion, organized by Cassady Glass Hastings. The resulting video has been viewed more than 20,000 times on YouTube.

“I wanted to be able bring some of the expertise I learned from that project to the ‘Sing-Along Messiah,’” Brady said.

Brady estimated he has spent 70 hours so far on the “Hallelujah” chorus alone.

“We have more than 90 different sound sources, ranging from bedrooms to conference rooms,” Brady said. “The challenge is, can I make that sound like a virtual chorus? Afterwards, I can craft a one-hour video.”

To the organizers, it’s important to keep the “Sing-Along Messiah,” long a local favorite, going despite the pandemic.

“We’re continuing the tradition, but instead of being at the Sonoma Country Day School, the ‘Sing-Along Messiah’ is coming into your home,” said Elizabeth Kern, the league’s vice president for public relations.

The league is an organization of volunteers who support the Santa Rosa Symphony Institute for Music Education. Donations benefit the program, which introduces more than 30,000 young people in Sonoma County to music each year.

You can reach Staff Writer Dan Taylor at dan.taylor@pressdemocrat.com or 707-521-5243. On Twitter @danarts.

Dan Taylor

Arts & Entertainment, The Press Democrat

Do you take fun seriously? I know I do. Tell me what you want to know about arts and entertainment in the North Bay to make the best use of your leisure time and money. As a longtime local arts journalist, I have learned where to look and who to ask.

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