Community concert brings together performers from across Northeast Oregon


Screen Shot 2017-12-13 at 2.37.46 PMLA GRANDE — The annual concert of Händel’s “The Messiah” is a community performance in the truest sense. The musicians come from across Northeast Oregon and from varying religious backgrounds.

Marie Rampton, who helps organize and promote the community concert, said the show appeals to audiences of all beliefs: from Christians to agnostics to atheists. She said there is even an atheist among the orchestra who performs for the music.

“That’s the beauty of this show,” she said. “Everyone joins for different reasons.”

Soprano soloist Kristen Rushton, for instance, feels a spiritual connection to the music.

“The journey this great work takes us on with a live orchestra and singers is grand and is the reason of our mortal existence,” the Baker City resident said. “This music touches our spirit and reminds us why we are here.”

Anthony Corig, who owns Direct Music Source in La Grande, said “The Messiah” is one of his favorite choral pieces.

“The music is  Angelic,” he said. “I  believe that it was gifted to Händel from God. ‘Worthy is The Lamb’ closing with the Amen chorus is majestic. I  feel the presence of God at the final three measures of The Amen.”

Similarly, bass Wes Rampton said he views the music as a “form of worship for believers in many Christian faiths.”

Moreover, Wes Rampton said  the music itself is reason enough to enjoy the performance.

“The music is uplifting and exhilarating,” he said. “Händel wrote his music in ways that build throughout a piece and carry both the performer and the listener to a climax, and then on to the ending for a harmonious resolution. And it all feels right.”

Continuing a years-long tradition, recently renewed

The community tradition dates back to 1979, when Don Jensen moved to La Grande. Jensen moved away less than a decade later but returned and resumed the annual performance, according to Marie Rampton. After Jensen died in 2014, Brent Smith and others organized the musicians to continue Jensen’s legacy for one more performance.

Viola player Denise Hattan said she started playing in “The Messiah” because  Jensen asked her to.

“I continued because the music is fun, exciting and beautiful..even for the violas!  I play now because I enjoy making this  beautiful music with so many of my friends, and as a tribute to Don, who conducted ‘The Messiah’ up to the last, and was a good friend, outstanding musician, director, arranger and mentor.”

There was no performance in 2015, but it was once again reborn in 2016 under the direction of La Grande choir teacher Kevin Durfee and a committee of volunteers.

Durfee said he enjoys the challenge of conducting “The Messiah.”

“I feel that the choir and orchestra get better every year,” he added. “The music is so powerful and moving and matches the text perfectly.  I feel chills every time I’m on the podium.”

This year’s soloists are Regina Braker, B.J. Brown, Kiley Muilenburg and Jessica Grove; altos  Julie Carpenter, Trina Butler and Kristen Rushton; tenor Quentin Durfee and bass Wes Rampton, Brent Smith and Chris Blair.

Marie Rampton said performers in this year’s concert come from Baker City, Cove, Elgin, Enterprise, La Grande, Lostine and Union. There are 50 singers and 24 instrumentalists in this year’s production, which starts at 7 p.m. Dec. 17.

The concert will be held in the La Grande High School auditorium and is free to attend.

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