- Associated Press - Saturday, November 26, 2016

WINONA, Minn. (AP) - Life. It’s something to sing about.

“It’s fun. It’s the most natural thing we do,” Harry Mechell told the Winona Daily News (https://bit.ly/2gzdbsl ). To sing - and to hear singing - is to share joy; share beauty; share what makes us most human.

To experience music is to be “drawn into a different world for a little while,” Mechell said, and for the past 20 years as director of the Winona Oratorio Chorus Mechell has been inviting Winona singers, instrumentalists and audiences to be drawn into that world.

In November, and again in the spring, Mechell and the chorus are celebrating two decades of music making with concerts featuring some of the “greatest hits” of the world’s choral repertoire in a program titled “Treasures from the Music Box.” The program includes selections from major choral works by Vivaldi, Bach, Handel and Mozart.

“Putting this program together was a challenge,” Mechell said. “How do you follow three movements of Mozart’s ‘Requiem?’”

Then again, making music is always a challenge. And a joy.

“We work hard, but there has to be enjoyment,” Mechell said of his work with singers and instrumentalists. Making music, and doing it well, is a joyful collaboration, a “healthy, fruitful enterprise.”

It’s an enterprise Mechell has participated in as performer, conductor, teacher and listener, beginning as a child in North Philadelphia, surrounded by the sonorous unaccompanied vocal harmonies while growing up in the Russian Orthodox Church.

He sang in high school, sang while he earned degrees in music at Temple University - studying under noted conductor Robert Page, who led the university choirs in recordings with the Philadelphia Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic. It was these experiences, rehearsing and learning from Eugene Ormandy and Leonard Bernstein that nurtured his love for major choral works, he said.

Mechell was clearly on track for a career in music, though the plan came within a few strikes and foul balls of being derailed.

He had a tryout with the Phillies, he recalled, the man with the baton in white tie and tails nearly living a different life as an Philadelphia all-star shortstop, a player with promise enough to earn him a close look-over at Connie Mack Stadium.

As it turned out, baseball’s loss would be Bach’s gain.

He turned instead to teaching.

First was 12 years in a high-school classroom, then to university music programs, joining the Winona State University music faculty in 1989.

“I couldn’t have done it all without Lauren,” he said. Over their 40-year marriage she has been “my support, my strength,” he said, not to mention being a colleague in the WSU music department and a singer in the Oratorio Chorus.

The chorus, he said, gives community members an opportunity to sing the major choral works of the great composers; an opportunity that, because of the cost and complexity of assembling and rehearsing a large group of singers and instrumentalists, is not often available.

“I want them to absorb every moment. … they’ll never sing Beethoven’s Mass in C again in their lives … to bite into it; chew on it; make it their own.”

Then, share the music with an audience.

“Music isn’t some high, exalted thing,” he said, and singers and performers are “normal people trying to bring music to life” so they and the audience can be “drawn into a different world for a little while.”

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Information from: Winona Daily News, https://www.winonadailynews.com

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