Handel Helps Humanity

Philanthropy in music is not a new idea. Specifically, musical performances given to benefit others are not new. But a few years ago one particular group of individuals created a project that is still benefiting two separate organizations, and their success has been so remarkable that C.S. has chosen to spotlight them as September’s Unsung Heroes.

In 1994 a group of Canadian musicians had the idea for a recording of Handel’s Messiah made specifically to benefit others. Conductor Howard Dyck , along with soloists Henriette Schellenberg, soprano; mezzo Catherine Robbin; tenor, Paul Frey; and bass Daniel Lichti, all agreed to waive their normal fees, as well as donating all of the proceeds to charitable causes. The recording has succeeded beyond anyone’s expectations. In an interview conducted during the summer of 1994, project coordinator Jane Colwell stated that she believed the Messiah project would “catch fire in a big way. In my most optimistic moments, I see us raising enough money so that every penny from the very first CD sold goes to our benefit projects.”

But even the most optimistic person would be impressed by the amount of money raised to date by the subsequent recording. Two organizations were chosen as beneficiaries of the project: Habitat for Humanity, which helps deserving families acquire their own homes with the help of volunteer labor, and the Mennonite Central Committee, supporting aid and relief projects worldwide. Habitat for Humanity Canada’s CEO, Wilmer Martin, also mentioned the long-term benefits of this type of project, including its “widespread impact.” Dave Worth, of the Mennonite Central Committee, praised the Messiah project in particular, saying that it was a “lasting legacy, not a flash in the pan.”

Interest in the recording and its purpose has extended even to more commercialized sectors. The Messiah CD is now available from the Sony classical catalog, although both Habitat for Humanity and the Mennonite Central Committee continue to offer the recording in their own merchandise catalogs.

Emily Brunson

Soprano Emily Brunson was senior editor for Classical Singer from 1998-99.