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Tulsa Chorale takes Beethoven and the Beatles to the drive-in

Tulsa Chorale takes Beethoven and the Beatles to the drive-in

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Tim Sharp decided it was time to get the old gang together once again — even if it meant gathering only a handful of people at a time.

The “gang” in this case is the Tulsa Chorale, the vocal ensemble that for many years operated under the name the Tulsa Oratorio Chorus and for which Sharp has been the artistic director since 2009.

The chorus has not performed in public since the weekend of Jan. 31, when it took part in the Tulsa Symphony Orchestra’s presentation of “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.” It was preparing for a special concert featuring contemporary choral works by American women composers when the coronravirus pandemic forced the postponement of all performances throughout the country.

To make matters even worse, because the virus can be spread through aerosols — droplets that are expelled when sneezing, coughing or engaging in any sort of vigorous vocal activity — choral singing has been considered one of the more effective spreaders of the contagion.

More than 50 members of a community choir in Washington state became ill with COVID-19 following two rehearsal sessions in March, prior to much of the country shutting down in hopes of containing the virus.

“This is something I’ve been dealing with since the start of the pandemic,” said Sharp, who also serves as executive director of the Oklahoma City-based American Choral Directors Association, a national nonprofit organization that works to promote excellence in choral music.

“Because of tragic events like the one in Washington, we learned very quickly that the way choirs have been operating for hundreds of years simply can’t be done anymore,” Sharp said. “That’s what the science says — the traditions of choral singing can place singers in a great deal of danger from this disease.”

So when Sharp and the Tulsa Chorale decided the time was right to try to create some sort of concert event that would allow the chorus members to make beautiful music together while observing all the necessities to remain as safe as possible, creativity and collaboration came into play.

The Tulsa Chorale will present a modified version of a concert it has originally planned for early summer, titled “Revolutionaries: Beethoven and the Beatles.”

However, rather than perform in a conventional concert setting, the multimedia presentation will be shown Tuesday, Oct. 13, at the Admiral Twin Drive-In, 7355 E. Easton St.

The evening will include a filmed presentation of the Tulsa Chorale performing sections from Beethoven’s Mass in C, followed by a showing of the 1978 film “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” inspired by the landmark album by the Beatles and starring Peter Frampton, the Bee Gees, Steve Martin, Alice Cooper and George Burns.

Rounding out the evening will be a performance by Tulsa band The Retro Rockets, performing songs by the Beatles with lyrics projected onto the Admiral Twin screen for those who would want to sing along.

Sharp said the chorus will perform the “Kyrie” and “Gloria” sections of the Mass in C. “They seemed the most appropriate for the time — a plea for mercy and a celebration of joy,” he said.

Sharp said he will open the concert with a few words about what has come to be known as the “Heiligenstadt Testament,” a letter Beethoven wrote in 1802, in which he grappled with the realization that he was losing his hearing — an unimaginable fate for a composer.

“Beethoven was asking, ‘Why me? Why am I fated to be separated from the one thing I was created to do?’” Sharp said. “We’re using that to frame our own condition. We’ve been separated from our art for months, and now, we’re doing what we can to overcome the obstacles before us.”

What attendees to “Revolutionaries” will see is a performance that was recorded in parts and edited together to create the illusion of a live, unified performance.

“This was not a decision made lightly,” Sharp said. “In fact, at one of the rehearsals, I happened to ask one of our singers how she was feeling, and she said, ‘I’m scared to death.’ Even though we were thrilled to be able to work together — there were tears of joy from more than one person — we still had to be vigilant about safety.”

Rehearsals were held at the Hardesty Arts Center downtown, with the chorus arranged in small groups of eight to 10 singers at a time in locations on the first and third floors of the building so that 10 feet of social distance could be maintained. Sharp would then move from group to group, working in 45-minute increments.

“When I was working with a group on the first floor, the staff would be cleaning the space we used on the third floor and move the next group in,” Sharp said.

The vocal soloists — Meray Boustani, Rebekah Ambrosini, Kim Childs and Elliott Wulff — and the orchestra were recorded individually.

“I ended up spending a lot of time in the studio,” Sharp said, laughing. “It took an average of 10 hours to get the results I would normally get in a typical two-and-a-half-hour rehearsal.”

The singers were then recorded and filmed at SongSmith Records, a Broken Arrow recording studio, and the final product will be edited together into a film version of the performance.

And just as Sharp plans to edit all the video and audio pieces of the Tulsa Chorale’s virtual performance of Beethoven’s Mass in C into a continuous whole, he also sees his job as artistic director in much the same way.

“I’m just trying to create some kind of continuity,” he said. “This pandemic has been devastating to so many people, and one thing that has always helped to lift people’s spirits is music — choral music in particular.

“Just being able to get together again and sing, even with all these restrictions, has been a joyous experience for us,” Sharp said. “I know no one in our organization is taking what we have here for granted. I’m just hoping that we are going to be able to do our Christmas concert in November, in real time, before a live audience. That’s our hope.”


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James D. Watts Jr.

918-581-8478

james.watts@tulsaworld.com

Twitter: watzworld

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