Voices of Omaha: A local and family annual tradition

Photo Courtesy of voicesofomaha.org
Photo Courtesy of voicesofomaha.org

Katherine Hartner

On Nov. 20, the Voices of Omaha performed George Friedrich Handel’s oratorio “Messiah” as their gift to the Omaha community. The free performance is a 48-year tradition opening the Christmas season. Many have attended with their families for years, but for one family, performing in the choir has become their tradition.

The Albers family of Glenwood, Iowa, has performed with the Voices of Omaha for the past three years with this year marking their fourth time performing Handel’s “Messiah.”

According to William Albers, 16, the Albers became involved in the annual performance after Edward Hurd, the Voices of Omaha’s artistic director, visited the Omaha Academy Choir, which William and his sister Josephine (14) sang with at the time.

The Albers became involved and a family tradition was born. As veteran performers for the Voices of Omaha, the Albers have learned what a typical practice schedule leading up to the performance looks like.

The singers prepare for the performance in five two-hour Sunday practices with a piano instead of a full orchestra.

“Practicing with just the piano makes it easier,” William Albers said.

Josephine Albers added that there aren’t as many instruments playing, so it’s less likely to be distracting.

“The first year was the most difficult because the music was unfamiliar,” William Albers said, “but it’s gotten easier every year since.”

At a typical practice, the performers start at the beginning or pick up where they left off, Josephine Albers said.

There are also additional optional practices for individual voices—sopranos, altos, tenors and bases—before and after each practice.

Nearly halfway through a practice, the singers take a break,and Hurd gives a presentation on Handel’s life or the history of the oratorio.

Connie Albers, 42, remembers one particular story fondly— the story of the button that saved Handel’s life.

Josephine Albers retold the story of how Handel once took over for a fellow musician on the harpsichord while the other man was acting a part.

When the musician and actor came back, however, Handel refused to let him take over again. After the performance was over, the actor challenged Handel to a duel and successfully stabbed Handel, but his rapier caught on a button, saving the composer’s life.

“After that, they became best friends,” William Albers said.

The Voices of Omaha also offers incentives to teenagers and military members who want to perform the Messiah.

Teenagers and military can get a free copy of the score if they need it, and teenagers can get a rental for a free tuxedo or dress to wear during performance, according to William Albers.

Josephine Albers said her favorite thing about performing with the Voices of Omaha is “everything!”

She said she enjoys working with Hurd, who uses humor to help keep rehearsals running smoothly.

“Ed was very impressed that I was reading War and Peace.” Connie Albers said. “Last year, he was directing us, and his music stand kept going down.” Rather than staying at the correct height, it was sliding closed. Connie pantomimed following the music as the stand collapsed, laughing.

The Albers encourage others to participate in the annual performance.

“They’re always looking for more people to perform with them,” William Albers said, “particularly tenors and basses.”

All the Albers agreed that they’d certainly continue performing with the Voices of Omaha for years to come.