Posted 30 years 32 days ago ago by Vern Sanders 0 Comments
Dramatizing Mendelssohn's Elijah
by Gerald Brown
t the Ridgecrest
Baptist Assembly's Music Week in 1977, I saw an impressive dramatized production of Mendelssohn's Elijah
. Their presentation so moved me that the idea of such an undertaking by our church choir never left my mind. Then almost five years later, the timing was right, the choir was ready, and the decision surfaced for us also to attempt the stirring dramatization in May of 1982.
Before attempting to challenge the choir to present such a production, I invited Everett Robertson
to come to our church and personally train our drama group. He had been the creator of the Ridgecrest version of the presentation. However, with a full schedule as a consultant in our denomination, he was unable to personally make the visit, but graciously offered to send the drama instructions and preparation materials he had used. The project had its beginning!
There were six non-singing cast members to select from the congregation. Their pantomime and choreographed movement was designed to draw attention to what was being sung by the choir. One choir member had substantial drama experience and agreed to work with these six "actors." They were costumed in black robes with red headdresses. For several weeks, they rehearsed their non-speaking parts by listening to a recording of the oratorio, familiarizing themselves with entrances and time lenghts of various choreographed movements and patterns.
Dr. James C. McKinney
, Dean of The School of Church Music at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
in Fort Worth sang the demanding role of Elijah. His voice and expertise were vital parts of the overall production. Other solos were assigned to various members of the choir.
Our choir rallied to the challenge of learning the work. The 105 singers dedicated themselves to extended rehearsals and extra practices for almost half a year. Even without the added responsibilities of the drama, the choral parts are a task to master.
Besides the musical duties, the presentation required many long hours of work by members of the choir and congregation at large. A committee from the choir was put in charge of costuming all 105 singers. They worked with a local fabric store, purchasing material and organizing it with patterns into paper sacks. Each sack was marked for a potential wearer — such as "Male-Medium." Choir members each received an appropriate sack and then had the responsibility of turning it into a costume. Several church members volunteered to help those who did not sew. Because of the various types of workmanship, each costume varied nicely. It made for a very striking appearance.
Our church maintenance crew then had the sizeable job of transforming our sanctuary stage into a theatrical one, large enough for the actors to perform their various choreographed movements. Fortunately our choir loft is centered and behind the open stage area. We did determine, however, that we did not have room for an orchestra, so the work was very capably accompanied by our church's organist and pianist.
Many churches hesitate to use theatrical type lighting in their sanctuary. We, on the other hand, feel strongly that appropriate lighting adds greatly to musical events such as this. Our stage is complete with remotely controlled spot lights from above, in addition to follow spots from the rear. It was quite effective to light Elijah with a deep red cast when the "fire was descending from heaven."
Our sanctuary acoustics require sophisticated sound reinforcement, not only for the soloists, but also for the choir. Our sound engineers practiced with us many times in regular rehearsals, and then were especially helpful' during the final run-throughs before the presentation.
Financing a project of this magnitude was simply a matter of some careful planning. Expenses were kept to a minimum, especially with our not using an orchestra. For the most part, the actors and choir members paid for their own costumes; other expenses were covered by the general music budget.
One of our choir members had excellent experience in theatrical make-up and assisted the actors and any choir members who needed extra help. One of the most enjoyable aspects of this type of production is the discoveries that are made of "hidden" talents. Our appreciation certainly went out to all those many "detail" people who pitched in.
Since last May, I've been asked by many of my colleagues, "Would you recommend the project to other churches?" And of course I would! The feeling of outreach to the community, the excitement of learning and staging such a classic, the celebration attitude that is
generated by the audience as they experience one of the great Old Testament stories in a new way — it all adds up to an event to remember.
Seeking guidance from Everett Robertson was definitely a pivotal point in our planning; those who "know" can certainly steer productions of this type toward success.
In a letter the choir received from Dr. McKinney, he wrote, "This was a new experience in that I had never done it in costume before. In many ways, Mendelssohn's music does not really need dramatization, but in other ways the drama brings home the meaning of the text in ways that I had not experienced before."