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Conducting first "Messiah" an emotional experience for Lindsborg native

4/7/2014

By GARY DEMUTH

By GARY DEMUTH

Salina Journal

LINDSBORG -- The call of the "Messiah" was too strong for Mark Lucas to ignore.

After 10 years as a professor of music and director of choral activities at the University of Oklahoma, Lucas was informed a similar position had opened at Bethany College. He didn't have to think twice about moving, even though he had good reasons to stay in Oklahoma.

"I had just gotten tenure," said Lucas, 43. "But the timing was right for my family to come back. My wife Jeanne loves this area, and I get to come back home."

Coming home

Lucas grew up in Lindsborg, graduating from Smoky Valley High School in 1989 and Bethany College in 1994 with a degree in music education. He began singing tenor in Handel's "Messiah" in 1987 under the direction of Elmer Copley.

Lucas dreamed of one day conducting the work himself, a tradition at the college since 1882. Becoming associate professor of music at Bethany College would give him that opportunity.

"It's special, almost something you can't put into words," he said.

Annual festival

The 2014 Messiah Festival of the Arts begins Friday and runs through Easter Sunday, April 20.

The annual Bethany Oratorio Society's performance of Handel's "Messiah" will be at 3 p.m. April 20 in Presser Hall on the Bethany College campus. The annual performance of Bach's "Passion of St. Matthew" will be at 7:30 p.m. April 18 in Presser Hall.

One of the first things Lucas did in his new position was to separate the two works: "Messiah" rehearsals would be Sundays and Bach rehearsals would be Tuesdays. Volunteer singers would not be required to sing both works, as had been the case in the past.

Chorus size doubles

"The Bach is difficult, while the Handel is much more accessible to the average singer," he said. "When singers were allowed to sing the Handel only, we doubled the size of the chorus to 280."

Lucas has a master's degree in choral conducting and a doctorate in choral music education, both from the University of Oklahoma. He also is an accomplished tenor who has sung professionally with the Santa Fe Desert Chorale and teaches studio voice lessons.

Prior to accepting a position at the University of Oklahoma in 2003, Lucas spent four years as director of choral activities at Kansas Wesleyan University.

Emotional experience

Taking the podium for the first time to rehearse "Messiah" earlier this year was an emotional experience, Lucas said.

"It brought back so many memories," he said. "When Easter Sunday comes and we do the 'Hallelujah Chorus,' I'll probably break down and bawl. But that's what music's for, right?"

Messiah Mosaic

On Palm Sunday April 13, a concert event entitled "Messiah Mosaic" will begin at 3 p.m. in Presser Hall. Headlining will be the Denver-based Apollo Chamber Brass, a quintet who perform an eclectic selection of classical and contemporary music.

Also featured will be the Bethany College Chamber Choir, Bethany Oratorio Society and select choirs from Minneapolis High School, Salina Central High School, Southeast of Saline High School and Smoky Valley High School.

"There was a decision to introduce new concert events into the festival on Palm Sunday," said Blakely Bunning, Messiah Festival coordinator. "The time was right to make the switch. We have a list of future concert events we want to do, and artists we want to invite."

Bunning said she is excited about this year's festival lineup, in which "art, theater and music have a stronger presence."

"Music is the cornerstone, but it's becoming a true festival of the arts," she said.

Festival of Arts

The following events are scheduled for this year's Messiah Festival of the Arts:

--Friday and Saturday: "Nathan the Wise" theater production. 7 p.m., Sundstrom Conference Center. $8 general admission, $5 for students, seniors and Bethany College staff.

--Saturday and April 19: All day. "Mosaic Making" community art project, 104 N. Second.

--Sunday: Juried student art exhibition. 1:30 p.m. awards ceremony, 2 p.m. reception. Mingenback Art Center, Bethany College.

--"Messiah Mosaic," featuring the Apollo Chamber Brass and area choirs. 3 p.m. Presser Hall, Bethany College. Tickets cost $17 and $22.

--April 14: "Meet the Brass," program for area third- and fourth-grade students hosted by Apollo Chamber Brass. 9:30 a.m., Presser Hall.

--April 15: Symphonic Band and Jazz Band concert. 7:30 p.m., Presser Hall.

--April 17: "Baroque for Beginners" outreach program for area fifth- through eighth-grade students, featuring Lucas, Bethany Oratorio Society orchestra principal musicians and local vocal ensemble Dalkoren. 9:30 a.m., Presser Hall.

--Maundy Thursday Service. 7 p.m., Burnett Center, Bethany College.

--April 18: Performance of Bach's "Passion of St. Matthew." 7:30 p.m., Presser Hall.

--April 19: Grace Race, 5K run/walk. 8 a.m., from the Hahn Physical Education Center, Bethany College. $25, all proceeds to benefit Bethany College.

--April 20: Performance of Handel's "Messiah." 3 p.m., Presser Hall.

-- Reporter Gary Demuth can be reached at 822-1405 or by email at gdemuth@salina.com.

(c)2014 The Salina Journal (Salina, Kan.)