A common chord ties them all together

Albany Times Union, NY
April 9 2004

A common chord ties them all together
Sand Lake– Love of music helps singers and musicians with varied
backgrounds unite to perform the “Messiah”

By ERIKA GROFF, Special to the Times Union

Take a violinist, jewelry store manager and retired theater educator.
Throw in some community members from the Capital Region, all from
different church backgrounds, and mix. The result is the Sand Lake
Chorale, a group of singers and musicians who will perform parts two
and three of Handel’s “Messiah” next weekend.
The musical group’s conductor, Janine Budesheim, likens the chorale
to a recipe with mixed ingredients.

“In the beginning, it’s chaos, learning the notes and rhythms,” she
said. “But once they start listening to each other, the harmonies are
formed and they are feeling the blend.”

Budesheim founded the choir in 2001; it was known then as The
Ecumenical Messiah Choir. The year before, Sylvia Kutchukian,
director of the arts school David’s Tabernacle, had asked Budesheim
to put together an orchestra to accompany her choir for a rendition
of Handel’s “Messiah,” part one.

Afterward, people from Budesheim’s community approached her,
Budesheim said, and asked, “Can we do that?” So they did. 64 singers
and 32 instrumentalists sang and played the Hallelujah chorus.

Last November, they got together again to perform the same chorus as
the grand finale of a benefit for the opening of the Sand Lake Center
for the Arts. A month later, they started practicing the Handel
pieces for next week’s concert. There are now 38 chorale musicians
and 24 orchestral musicians.

Among them is 35-year-old Raffi Topalian, who runs Top Custom
Jewelers in Latham’s Hilltop Plaza. Topalian worships at St. Peter
Armenian Apostolic Church and is more accustomed to singing in
Armenian than English. He sings tenor with the Sand Lake Chorale and
said it has been a pleasure — a “great fellowship” — to sing with
people from different denominations.

Even after singing the “Messiah” over and over again for the past
four months, Topalian said he discovers something new every time it
is sung.

“You could sing it for 30 years but learn something new each time you
sing it because you have a new life perspective,” he said. “It’s
something different every time.”

Mary Margaret McGuire, retired director of education for the New York
State Theater Institute, sings alto — three octaves of alto — with
the Sand Lake Chorale. She said she likes singing with the group
because, for the first time in her life, she is singing with people
who really love to sing.

She said Handel wrote the three-part piece in a matter of days and
put it together in a marvelous way.

“If you forget what your part is — and if you stop and listen —
you’ll hear your part but it might be an oboe, viola or cello playing
it,” she said.

What makes this upcoming performance unique is the difficulty of the
composition, said Peter Skinner, administrative director of the
chorale. He said parts two and three are much more difficult than the

“We’re doing a performance only a few recordings have on it, while
most choirs can exclude up to a third of it,” he said.

He credits the group’s success to the community support.

“So often, we have become more fractured and divided. Here, people
are communicating, achieving together and getting to know each other,
creating a sense of purpose and caring for community,” Skinner said.
“It’s about community.”