By JAIME STUDD
Recorder News Staff
Hundreds of people filled the pews at St. Ann's Episcopal Church Sunday afternoon to bear witness to the 50th annual performance of George Frideric Handel's "The Messiah."
The extraordinary sounds of what is one of the most well-known and most frequently performed choral pieces in history have become a Christmas tradition in Amsterdam, reverberating off the ornate archways and echoing throughout of the halls of the historic Division Street church every December.
Sunday's performance, however, nearly did not happen.
Margo Visscher, a St. Ann's parishioner who helped coordinate Sunday's concert, said she learned on Thursday that Richard McKee, who traditionally conducts the performance, had been hospitalized with health issues.
A desperate call was placed to Donald Ingram, a retired organist and choirmaster who had served at churches throughout the Northeast and Florida.
"I don't think he was going to do it at first," said Visscher. "Then he heard it was our 50th performance."
Only one hour-long practice was possible prior to Sunday's performance, Visscher said, with Ingram at the helm.
"He was nice enough to come and fill in for us," said Visscher. "He's done an A-plus job on one rehearsal."
Visscher said simply canceling the performance was not an option.
"It's kind of a tradition in Amsterdam," said Visscher. "This is the start of the Christmas season.
"You've got to do it," she added. "You can't not do it."
For Ingram, the decision to jump on board at the last minute was not an easy one. He hesitated at first, he said, noting that it had been many years since he'd conducted "The Messiah" prior to having done so two weeks ago at St. George's in Schenectady, and he had only actually seen St. Ann's performance of the piece once some years ago.
When all was said and done, however, Ingram said he was happy to have joined the group and was thrilled with the results.
"I'm very pleased," said Ingram. "The whole group, the soloists -- they couldn't have been nicer. They couldn't have cooperated more."
By many accounts, the performance under Ingram was among the most successful ever held at the church.
"Unbelievable. Fantastic. The best ever," parish member Anne DeGroff told Ingram during the small reception that followed the performance. "It took my breath away."
"I think God has to be pleased with that performance," she added.
DeGroff was not the only one thankful for Ingram's last-minute contribution.
Chorus member Carmel Greco also credited a higher power with bringing Ingram to the rescue.
"Don was a real godsend," Greco said.