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Charles Meredith; Memories of “Hallelujah Chorus”


Dear Friends,

Good morning. Mighty Betsy and I hope that you had a wonderful Christmas. Whenever we hear the “Hallelujah Chorus,” we think back to October 30, 2010 when the Opera Company of Philadelphia assembled more than 650 choristers from 28 participating organizations to perform one of the Knight Foundation’s “Random Acts of Culture” at Macy’s (formerly Wanamaker’s). Robert and Lisa Landley from Trinity Episcopal Solebury were in that chorus.

You can still see and hear it via the Internet (Opera Company of Philadelphia “Hallelujah” Random Act of Culture). The Wanamaker pipe organ is known as the world’s largest pipe organ. It has special meaning for our family because my Aunt Minnie Keller used to play it regularly.

M.B. and I attended the dress rehearsal of “The Messiah” at Trinity Episcopal Church in Solebury on Dec. 15 because we had a conflict on performance day. It turned out that the performance was standing room only. The Messiah was sold out.

Our grandson, Quint Meredith, joined the Landleys, Herald Publisher Joe Wingert and 60 other singers plus an orchestra of 17, all under the direction of Timothy Harrell. It was a fabulous concert.

George Fredrich Handel wrote the three-hour oratorio in three parts.

Conductor Harrell chose the entire first part and selections from Parts 2 and 3. The “Hallelujah Chorus” is the last chorus in Part 2. Every chorister from days in high school and college choruses, plus church choruses knows the “Hallelujah Chorus” from memory. That’s why it was so easy to field a 650-membered choir to sing the piece at Macy’s.

“The Trumpet Shall Sound” is one of my favorite selections (in Part 3). I’ll have Mighty Betsy include it for my funeral some day. If our friend Greg Cantwell, a bass soloist, and Barbara Prugh Sowers a fine trumpeter, are available, their performance will be electrifying. The words from First Corinthians 15 are inspiring: “The trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised, and we shall be changed … this mortal must put on immortality.”

When England’s King George II heard the “Hallelujah Chorus” sung for the first time in 1743, he was so moved that he stood in awe. What did the rest of the audience do? When the King stands, you stand. For 275 years, audiences around the world have stood for the “Hallelujah Chorus” including the audience at Trinity Episcopal.

I enjoyed Tim Harrell’s program notes explaining why Handel encouraged women to leave their hoops out of their skirts and men were asked to leave their swords at home … so that more people could fit into the performance hall.

Conductor Tim Harrell attracted 17 players from the Philadelphia, Boston and New York City regions to form his orchestra. There were 19 sopranos, 18 altos, 11 tenors and 14 basses to round out his chorus.

The vocal soloists were Rochelle Reed (soprano) Nicholas Tamagna (counter tenor), Steven Brennfleck (tenor) and Grant Mech (baritone). All were splendid.

Trinity Episcopal is fortunate to have Harrell as its organist and choir director. He’s been at its helm for 20 years. Mighty Betsy and I first met Tim when he was the organist at our former church, the First United Church of Christ in Quakertown. In the 1970s, Larry Speakman was our choir director, also a soloist with the Philadelphia Singers.

Consequentially, we sang with them for 20 years.

In addition to his playing abilities, Harrell has a beautiful tenor voice.

When the duo of Speakman and Harrell was about to leave First Church, I asked them to sing the famous duet for tenor and bass, “Verily,” from Dubois “Seven Last Words of Christ.” Since Speakman was one of the soloists, I substituted as choir leader. There were about 40 of us singing.

At the time, there was a conflict between the pastor and the music program. Speakman had attracted a large group of singers and trained us very well. He also formed allegiances with the Quakertown Band and the Philadelphia Concerto Soloists. Through Speakman, our church choir had become well known and respected. We even performed the Mozart Requiem.

But the music program became the tail that wagged the dog. Alas, it suffered when Speakman and Harrell left our church. Speakman continued his musical career in North and South Carolina. Fortunately, Harrell remained in Central Bucks County (Solebury Episcopal and Doylestown Presbyterian plus venues in New Jersey). Tim has been an active recitalist and accompanist in the Bucks County area for 34 years.

The region is lucky to have him in our midst. And our grandson is most fortunate to have Tim as Quint’s introduction to choral music.

Sincerely, Charles Meredith

By the way, Did you read that William Cramp of Haycock Township died at age 85? Retired, Bill was a science teacher at Palisades High School for 37 years (25 of them as head of the Science Department).

Well known in the Bucks Mont sports world, he was active in the Quakertown Little League and Connie Mack baseball programs for 40 years. In 2005, Bill was inducted into the Pennridge-Quakertown Athletic Hall of Fame. The Minor League Baseball field is named after him. Bill was a good man. We’ll miss him.