George Frideric Handel: “Every Valley” from Messiah

During my senior year of high school in 1973, I began to make plans for college.  My friend, Paul M***, was a year older than I. He got accepted to the University of Chicago and after he left, I spent my senior year hunting for the kind of intellectual stimulation that he had offered. Once I went to visit him.

Now, I had gone to Chicago on many occasions before then. My aunt lived near Midway airport, and the town was full of museums to which our schools arranged field trips. Chicago had a huge Art Institute and museums left over from the World’s Fair: The Museum of Science and Industry, The Shedd Aquarium, and the Field Museum of Natural History. But my trip to see Paul was the first time I traveled to Chicago as an adult.

My friend Gary Endicott and I bundled ourselves into my mother’s little black Volkswagen beetle and I drove the 90 miles from my home one Friday afternoon. The campus sat on the South Side of Chicago, an area that the whites of Chicago had fled after the riots in 1968. It looked a little like a war zone, with run down brownstones, derelict cars, and huge pot holes in the streets. Paul lived in an apartment on the upper floor of one of these old buildings just off campus. As in all male college kitchens, the refrigerator was stuffed with the local cheap brew and little else.

Paul was a great host, though. He took us to a wonderful bookstore that had a huge poster of Lenin, which I thought was so daring coming as I did from a virulently anti-Communist environment. We ate lunch at a place called the Medici Restaurant and Art Gallery, which served excellent Chicago style deep-dish pizza. The walls were adorned by some local artist’s etchings–very classy for me. Paul also took us to the Oriental Art institute, which held extensive collections of Assyrian and Egyptian artifacts collected by U of C’s archaeologists earlier in the 20th century. One room had massive winged, bull-man gates from Babylon and another held huge Egyptian column/statues, painted in bright polychromes.

We also drove by Frank Lloyd Wright’s “Robie House” and visited a friend of Paul’s who cooked us an exotic lunch–Ramen, which had just been introduced in the market. On Sunday morning we went to a very ethnic bagel place and overheard a conversation between two middle-aged women, who were talking about how “Sammy” had just got “his tubes replaced.” We ended up our trip sitting on the shore of Lake Michigan drinking Chicago beer before driving home.

Paul had done of good job of being Virgil to my Dante. I came away knowing that this was the life for me and I would love being in college.

One of the best places he took me on this trip was to a record store in the Loop. In my town, the classical music section of most record stores was miniscule. Some department stores had better selections than the record stores in the malls. Sometimes, you had to hunt in three or four stores before you could find what you were looking for. For example, I bought my copy of The Barber of Seville in Robertson’s department store in South Bend, which for some odd reason always had a good collection of opera.

I was completely overwhelmed by the record store that Paul took me to. We parked in an ominous part of the Loop, which had a subterranean feeling because of the loud, El train that ran overhead and obscured day light. The store was in one of those narrow old two story shops that was about as long as half a city block. There was a huge neon sign in the shape of a 33 rpm LP in the window. Inside, the ground floor room shot all the way back and was lined on both sides with bin after bin of popular records. Paul pointed me to a stairway that led to the upper floor beside which hung a sign that said “Classical.” At the top of the stairs, I’m afraid my jaw dropped to see more classical albums that I could even imagine existed. The whole floor was given over to them. I seem to remember an entire wall devoted to boxed sets of operas. Stack of records sat on the floor with signs on them saying “Sale!” I felt like a kid in a candy shop. I didn’t know what to buy and certainly didn’t have enough money to buy everything I wanted.

Paul showed me a stack of records–a nice box set that contained highlights from the Messiah conducted by Thomas Beecham, with Jon Vickers singing tenor. He said it was a good buy, so I bought it. Now because of the overplaying of “Hallelujah Chorus” at Christmas, I normally would have passed up this record. But I’m glad I didn’t. It turns out to be full of wonderful choruses and arias, which don’t get the air play of “Hallelujah” but which are beautiful and stirring. The orchestra is wonderfully bright and full of baroque charm, reminiscent of the composer’s Water Music. The tenor’s voice lilts along and has wonderful trills and runs.

I love the simple words to this aria, Every Valley: “Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill laid low: the crooked strait and the rough places plain.”

And basically, that is how I felt-exalted-after having visited Paul and getting a taste of Chicago and college life under his guidance.

Biography

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About kurtnemes
Writer and Education Professional. Specialties include Ethics, Personal Memoir, Classical music, Tai Chi, Stress Reduction, Meditation, Coping, Classical Music, Aging, Love, Joy, Compassion and Equanimity (& what interests me.)

2 Responses to George Frideric Handel: “Every Valley” from Messiah

  1. hilarycustancegreen says:

    Thanks for the tour of Chicago, where we spent a happy ten days last May, as well as the Handel.

    Like

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