Handel’s Messiah – Chasing Light in the Chorus

I went walking across Queen Street West in search of a some final Christmas presents and a piece of vinyl to relax with over the next few days. I ended up at Rotate This, a great little record store that caters to the local hipster crowd – a group I do not endorse or acknowledge. Regardless, I spent a solid hour flipping through the bins, scouting out what masterpieces they carry so that when I am flush with cash I know exactly what I desire. I must say that editions like Tom Waits’ Orphans box set and an odd boxed set out of Cuba (or somewhere like Detroit) that had a book of photography included really appealed to my aesthetic senses. In a world where mass consumption is the order of the day, and wherein we lose our appreciation for singular objects, I felt like I had discovered a small haven. So what did I buy?

Despite my best efforts, I always tend towards the things that my dear friend, Porter, instructs me to allow envelop me. Certainly, the last thing I intended to do was ever listen to Handel’s Messiah, let alone spend four days listening to only that on vinyl. However, the very first thing I picked up in the store, in a dingy bin below all of the glorious jazz sets was a beat-up thing that looked like an ancient novel. It might have been the leather binding that led me to it or my love of old things juxtaposed against the newest technologies, but there I was holding a boxed set of Handel’s Messiah as performed and printed in 1959 by RCA Victor, Sir Thomas Beecham and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

For a mere twelve dollars I was able to procure an educational experience and a nifty addition to my understanding of the world before me. Clutching it in hand, I decided to keep looking and chose a new deluxe copy of Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue on 200gram vinyl; the goal with my vinyl is to only include weird things, my very favourite albums and pieces with packaging that will inspire my photography. Kind of Blue is the one album everyone should own, and “So What?” is the song for a smooth bass line. Back to the Messiah…

At the cash, I apparently bemused the owner who looked up after ringing in Handel and said “Very cool…no REALLY.” All of the other hipsters were crestfallen at missing such praise for their choices, so I gained a millimetre of afficionado status that day.

Returning home I quickly unwrapped my goodies and placed Sir Thomas on the turntable to enlighten me. Nothing sounds like old, musty scratched vinyl – with the crackle of a fire place filled with wet logs, I began my meditation on the Messiah. Yes, the sound quality was atrocious, and the treble had to be rolled off completely, but it did have a warmer feel to it. I will admit that I like Handel’s Water Music canon, but then again it is the easiest of all classical music to love. So the opening of the Messiah allows for a calm surrender to the sway of the strings. There is a slight minor tone to the opening, and the dynamics are lulling – I will admit that I fell asleep halfway through side two – but that is a good thing, I think, as you can’t do that to Jay-Z or Weezer.

One of the highlights of the box set is this wonderfully funky booklet with an essay by Sir Thomas on Handel and a collection of colour plates [we know them as photos on glossy magazine paper]. The photos I include with my writing really do not do the plates justice, as they have that gilt-look ink that is meant to be appreciated in candlelight and imagined as Russian -styled icons. It took me two full listens of disc one to discover that it was being sung in English. From my experiences with Wagner, I just assumed that it was either in German or Latin. It was also neat to discover how many of our modern Christmas carols borrow phrasings from Handel.

The plan is that for the next three nights I will listen to the following record all evening, and then write about my experience the next day on my blog. The photography will be from the booklet, and serves to show me how to improve my capture of copy images and text, which is a lot more difficult than I imagined.

On the photography front, I am in an inspirational and learning mode. I found myself seeking influences from the manga and graphic novels in the local shops, and I purchased a volume of art done by Ray Caesar. I find his style rich and elusive, even if his subject matter borders on a questionable child-like portrayal of sexual women in his art. Perhaps it is the Baroque fabrics matched with a Japanese manga-influenced misrepresentation of the female form, but each image betrays a creeping sensuality that is lost in our cookie-cutter world known as the Americas. His influences, while in Toronto, were documentary photography for the Sick Children’s Hospital – surgical reconstruction, physical abuse other research areas; in that context his art becomes a catharsis for his own experiences. His art is created using the digital software, Maya, to create his forms to which textures and colours are blended. It is beautiful to look at, and it certainly the type of art that I would love to hang in my studio for inspiration, and he seems like the type of artist that I would love to shoot a series of portraits of. One never knows how connections are made in the spaces between the light and the darkness.


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