One of the major goals of the Bluffton University music department heading into the academic year was to provide students and the larger campus community with opportunities to perform and enjoy live music.
That goal included the university’s biggest concert of the year, Handel’s Messiah. This year is the university’s 125th performance.
“We were brainstorming ways to do all of our concerts this year, and I realized that this was a significant year for us,” said Crystal Sellers Battle, music department chair. “So the question became, how do we honor this tradition while still being mindful of how COVID-19 is impacting live performances everywhere? That’s when the retrospective was born.”
Instead of recording a traditional concert to be viewed through streaming services, the music department is teaming up with Bluffton graduates Chad Stearns and Cody Ridenour, co-owners of Modo Media, a Lima, Ohio, video and design agency, to develop a mini-documentary. Stearns and Ridenour both participated in Messiah as students.
“I think anybody who was in the music department probably has a memory or story about Messiah,” Ridenour said. “We’re going to make sure those stories get told and are preserved forever.”
The video will include reflections from past conductors Steve Jacoby and Mark Suderman; archival footage, photographs and recordings; and a socially distanced performance of select portions of the oratorio featuring current students, soloists and a string quartet.
“I love that we are working with the music faculty to pivot and come up with a different way to celebrate the 125th performance of Messiah,” Stearns said. “We’re truly honored that we were asked to be part of this. It’s good to be back at Bluffton.”
Community members, who are typically invited to sing in the chorus, will not be taking part to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission. Students will perform from the seating area of Yoder Recital Hall rather than the stage due to space restrictions.
While so much has changed this year, Sellers Battle is excited to keep this tradition moving forward and to share the final version.
“Because they were music majors, I know that they understand the special care that is needed to create something that celebrates the music as well as the tradition,” she said.
The performance will be streamed at 4 p.m. EST Dec. 20 at bluffton.edu/mus.