Savage's first 'Messiah' echoes work's premiere Concert to continue charity tradition

December 11, 1992|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,Staff Writer

NORTH LAUREL/SAVAGE — When Ray Miles lifts his conductor's baton tomorrow night to invoke the musical majesty of George Frideric Handel's "Messiah," it will be the realization of his "wild" dream.

The performance, at 7 p.m. in the Great Room at Savage Mill, will be the first time the choral work has been presented in Savage.

The concert will be a free benefit performance, with all donations going to aid charities, a tradition Handel initiated with the first performance of "Messiah" 250 years ago.

"It was a wild dream -- to conduct the 'Messiah' in my hometown, where it's never been done," said Mr. Miles, the music director of Savage United Methodist Church.

"I just had the feeling there's resources within the area to make it happen."

Mr. Miles, 49, has assembled a 50-voice choir of singers from 25 area churches and choral groups to sing the Christmas portion ** of "Messiah."

A 15-piece orchestra will provide the instrumental accompaniment.

There is no admission charge for the concert because Mr. Miles wanted to present the work in the spirit in which it was originally performed in Dublin.

"Messiah" was commissioned by the Irish government as a charity concert. The first performance of the work in 1742 raised 400 pounds, which was donated to hospitals and used to release inmates from debtors' prisons, Mr. Miles said.

"I felt it was time to get back to its roots and do it as a benefit," Mr. Miles said.

Donations collected at the concert will be given to Grassroots, which runs a hot line and homeless shelter in Columbia; the Aids Alliance of Howard County; FISH, which runs a food pantry in Laurel; and World Vision, an international disaster relief agency.

Resolving the logistics of mounting a production of "Messiah" has taken up much of Mr. Miles' time for the past two months.

He advertised for singers in newspapers and contacted area music groups.

By the end of October, he had started rehearsing with a group of 50 singers.

Then the search began for a performance space.

"For a while, I didn't know where we were doing it or when we were doing it," Mr. Miles said.

Savage Mill agreed to let Mr. Miles stage the concert in the mill's newly restored Great Room.

The mill waived the $1,200 room rental fee.

In addition to conducting and looking for a performance site, Mr. Miles also had to sell ads for the concert program and solicit donations from businesses and individuals to pay the salaries of the musicians in the orchestra.

Although Mr. Miles has conducted about 10 performances of "Messiah," he hasn't conducted a major orchestral work in five years.

It was then that he first experienced the symptoms of Sjogren's syndrome, a little-known disease affecting the immune system.

The illness, which causes extreme fatigue, forced Mr. Miles to retire from his job as a reading specialist with the Prince George's County school system in 1989.

However, he continued his work as the music director of a church in Washington.

Mr. Miles moved back to Savage in 1990 and became the music director of Savage United Methodist Church.

He found it easier to cope with his illness and wanted to get back into choral conducting.

He chose "Messiah," his favorite musical work.

Beyond the beauty of the music, Mr. Miles appreciates the work for its spiritual strength.

Prior to beginning the piece, Mr. Miles said, Handel was penniless and had lost the use of several of his fingers.

He sought treatments at a monastery and experienced a 'miraculous cure."

"It seemed like his health was resurrected for the purpose of doing the 'Messiah,' " Mr. Miles said. "He had a purpose in helping poor people in addition to creating beautiful music."

Mr. Miles sees his presentation of "Messiah" as something of a personal triumph in dealing with his illness.

"I really thought that once I got the disease I'd never conduct a major work again," he said. "I didn't have a miraculous cure, but I did feel I was given enough strength to tackle it."

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