Sounds to soothe the soul

Special Holiday Pullout Section

November 29, 2001|By Gina Kazimir | Gina Kazimir,Special to the Sun

For many families, the winter holidays wouldn't be complete without hearing Handel's Messiah or seeing The Nutcracker or A Christmas Carol.

For families that don't have such a tradition, this holiday season may be a good time to start one. This year more than ever, families in the United States are looking for ways to reconnect and reaffirm their celebration of life. Continuing or initiating a tradition of seeing a classic holiday production may be just the thing to accomplish that as this year of turmoil comes to a close.

"There is an organic, humanizing and fulfilling aspect to art and to making music," says T. Herbert "Herb" Dimmock, music director of the Handel Choir of Baltimore.

The choir annually performs The Messiah, and Dimmock says its production is the second-oldest annual one in the country. Since 1934, Baltimore audiences have attended performances, he says, and the audience keeps growing.

What makes The Messiah so popular? Dimmock believes the beauty and approachability of the music's story are the key reasons.

"The music is beautiful," he says, "and the subject is a central question of humanity, of who we are and where we come from. It's very universal -- the birth of a child is seen by everybody as a miracle. Plus, we live in an age where verbal communication is so easy that we forget that music communicates nonverbally. That's an aspect of communication that gets lost very often."

Probably the most popular holiday production is that of The Nutcracker. If you or anyone in your family ever took a ballet class, you, he or she probably performed in The Nutcracker, working hard to rise from mouse to soldier.

While the Baltimore area boasts an amazing array of Nutcracker productions to choose from, the Ballet Theatre of Maryland is offering something a bit unusual this year -- a live performance of the Tchaikovsky score by an orchestra, in this case, the Baltimore Chamber Orchestra.

"It's a wonderful spectacle with a large cast," says Henry Holth, executive director of the ballet company. "The story itself is about children and all those warm and fuzzy things. It's almost like an old MGM movie."

For decades, "American audiences have made The Nutcracker an annual holiday tradition all over the country," Holth adds. "The December holidays are a very long period of celebration. People want things to do together, and The Nutcracker is ideal.

"Since Sept. 11, there has been a lot of concern about the family. The Nutcracker is very much a family story, so it's [relevant] even more so" this year.

The feelings of comfort that we get from keeping holiday traditions can't be underestimated. But the performing arts can soothe us year-round if we allow them to. As Dimmock explains, enjoyment of the arts is a great way of staying connected to something beyond ourselves.

"The things that comment on deeper bonds are important," he says. "It shouldn't take a riveting national tragedy to realize that. Art can bring people together, not just singing at the holidays but all year long."

For information on Handel Choir of Baltimore and Ballet Theatre of Maryland productions mentioned in this story, see the accompanying roundup of holiday music.

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