‘Messiah’ man returns to Midcoast

By Dagney C. Ernest | Dec 05, 2018
Source: YouTube Tenor David Myers Jr., center, is surrounded by instrumentalists and other singers during the 2017 Barroom Messiah at Rockland’s FOG Bar & Café.

The winter holiday season is filled with traditions, communal and individual. For some, pulling out recipes and decorations signals the start. For David Myers Jr., pulling out a well-used score of George Frideric Handel’s “Messiah” is an annual waypoint.

“Some people have suggested to me that I might be growing tired of singing these pieces year after year, especially when I have three or four performances,” he said by phone at the end of November. “But the truth is, I never do! The comfort that the words and familiar music provide for me make me enjoy this music all year long.”

“Comfort Ye” is the 1741 work’s first vocal movement, followed by the aria “Ev’ry valley.” Both are written for the tenor voice and pave the way for the first appearance of the chorus. Myers is a tenor whose tone has been critically described as beautifully polished. Although classically trained, he has brought his vocal and stage presence to a wide range of projects, including Heartwood Theater’s original “Legend of Jim Cullen” in 2014. Most recently, he was the Slushie Guy in University of Southern Maine's world premiere “Girl In Six Beats,” a one-act chamber opera commissioned by Opera Maine with libretto by high schoolers from The Telling Room and music by Daniel Sonenberg.

Myers said that music was challenging to learn and the role was a lot of fun.

“How often do tenors usually get to play the role of a goofy ‘hipster?!’ And the character ultimately helped the Girl decide to give life a second chance,” he said.

Last year, Myers was a featured soloist in the Down East Singers’ holiday concert series; and it was with the Rockport-based Down East Singers that he began to build his now established reputation as a vocal soloist in Maine, having moved to the state a decade ago from Maryland.

“I had started singing with Down East Singers at the beginning of 2012. And then Tony asked me to sing solos by Christmastime, and I said, 'Absolutely, I'd love to,'” Myers said, referring to Down East Director Anthony Antolini of Cushing.

Myers was living in the Midcoast then, in Rockland and then Waldoboro, pursuing music on the side while working some pretty interesting day jobs.

“I was building miniature transducer microphones and medical coils at a company in Camden, ItriCon Tibbetts. And then I started working for LundPhotographics in Waldoboro, building wet-plate collodion materials for photographers who like to dabble in Civil War-era photography,” he said.

Myers said he had “a whole slew of interesting jobs” before finally deciding that music was his true passion. His bachelor’s degree, from Maryland’s Frostburg State University, is in music education. Three years ago, he moved to South Portland to pursue a master's of music degree in vocal pedagogy at the University of Southern Maine, studying voice with USM’s esteemed Ellen Chickering. His degree should be completed come May — and his goal of being a full-time musician is almost attained.

“I've slowly been working my way to that. Now that I'm doing student teaching, directing a choir and singing whenever I have the time, professionally, it is starting to take over my life,” he said.

He still works outside of music two days a week, in the accounts receivable department as a customer-service representative for a heating and plumbing company.

“And then the rest of the week, I'm teaching lessons, directing the choir and singing gigs,” he said.

The choir is that of North Yarmouth Congregational Church, where he also offers voice lessons; he teaches in a home studio, as well. This day, he was calling between student teaching at USM and a stint at the church. And it was a few days before the first of this season’s Barroom Messiahs.

A brainchild of Charles Brown — music director at Rockport’s Nativity Lutheran Church when not in Portland — Barroom Messiah is in its fourth year. The name is self-explanatory. The events are “Messiah” sings held in a bar or club, rather than the more expected church setting.

A “Messiah” sing is a one-off run-through of the Part I nativity portion (plus, usually, Part II’s “Hallelujah” Chorus) of Handel’s famous oratorio that reflects on the life of Jesus of Nazareth. The libretto draws from the Bible and the Anglican Book of Common Prayer. Long a staple of church and community choirs, “Messiah” is a work that most singers have tackled at some point — and probably have the score kicking around the house. It’s fun for choristers to romp through it in a less performance-oriented way, although such sings usually have practiced, often professional, directors, soloists and accompaniment.

“I always tell people they are a great opportunity for anyone who wants to sing beautiful music without the commitment of being in a group all year long,” Myers said. “And the setting for these events is always so casual and accessible.”

There are two “Messiah” sings on the Midcoast the second week of December, and Myers will perform the tenor solos in both: Tuesday night, Dec. 11, at the Episcopal Church of St. John Baptist in Thomaston; and Saturday afternoon, Dec. 15, at Rockland’s FOG Bar & Café (see the stories linked below).

“I realized this is my seventh year singing with Tony Antolini at the Episcopal church,” Myers said. And it was working with Antolini, a Bowdoin College professor who also directs the Bowdoin Chorus and other ensembles, that led to Myers’ being part of the Barroom Messiah.

“I had done Bach’s St. John Passion with him and the Nativity Lutheran Church years ago and Charles Brown was the organist; he may have played harpsichord, as well,” Myers said.

The two musicians got to know each other, and when Brown organized the Barroom Messiah, he sent Myers an email inquiry.

“He said, 'I know you're into this kind of music. Is this something you might want to try?' And I said, 'Yeah, it sounds like a really fun way to present the "Messiah" to people,'” Myers said.

While the church sing groups choristers by voice part in the front pews and is accompanied by a small string orchestra and pipe organ, the Barroom Messiah is, of necessity, a more shoulder-to-shoulder affair for everyone.

“Charles has a quartet, and then he plays harpsichord on his keyboard along with them,” said Myers. “He kind of crams them all onto a stage and we just kind of gather around them, so we make it work.”

The Down East Singers-sponsored sing in Thomaston is something Myers always works into his end-of-year schedule, even after heading to grad school.

“The musicians who sing with Tony and all of his group are just so warm and inviting. It always feels like coming home when I return to the Midcoast to sing with them,” he said. “And they sound great too, which is also a plus!”

Although the seasonal sings and performances usually take place after the liturgical season of Advent is under way, they herald the holidays for Myers.

“They are like the tradition for me … singing the Christmas portion of Handel's ‘Messiah’ with both Tony's group and Charles Brown is really what gets me in the Christmas mood,” he said.

And like any tradition, past and present meet in the mix.

“Each year when I take the ‘Messiah’ off the shelf and work on it, I find I discover something new,” Myers said. “I suppose I will always learn something new from it — at least I hope I do.”

For more information about Myers and his work, visit davidmyersjr.com.

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