Steve Murphy’s fall; MSO Chorus at St. Anthony’s
Addendum, Tuesday Oct. 27: That incidental percussion you heard in the middle of Saturday’s Milwaukee Symphony Chorus concert was baritone Steve Murphy hitting the floor.
Murphy, a well known radio host back in the WFMR classical days, fell off the back of the top riser during a women’s chorus number. He was in a great deal of pain, but there was no way he was giving up his big solo number in Amazing Grace. Fellow choristers helped him to his feet. He sang beautifully, sank into a chair, and sat out the rest of the concert.
He thought he might have broken his leg. Concerned colleagues called an ambulance, and he spent several hours post-concert in the emergency room. The injuries turned out to be a severe sprain of the knee and lower thigh.
Steve said the following, in a Facebook message to me Monday night: “People have called me courageous…loony…whatever, with regards to doing the solo. I wanted to do it for Elisabeth Witte and Jim Christie [to whom the concert was dedicated], two dear friends whose deaths still bring me to tears. I didn’t care if I was hurt…I wanted to sing my solo for them. It wasn’t quite the performance I wanted to give, but I did it. I was on pure adrenaline. I am grateful that I had the chance to do it for Elisabeth and Jim.”
Tim Schmidt, who was scheduled to sing the solo at the Sunday performance, was ready to step in for Murphy. He gave this account of the interview:
You know, dear readers, that we have a comment box below, the perfect place to give three cheers for Steve Murphy, fine singer and consummate trouper.
And here’s my concert review, written Saturday night, when I had no idea any of that had happened:
St. Anthony’s Church, splendid yet intimate, is an under-appreciated monument at 9th and Mitchell on the South Side. Choral director Lee Erickson and the Milwaukee Symphony Chorus are doing something about that by singing occasional concerts there.
Singing there also adds to the chorus’ glory. The acoustic of St. Anthony’s is perfect for a big chorus: bright and vibrant and ready to light up the overtone series, but not so full of echo that it muddies the harmonies.
Erickson’s singers took full advantage of the room Saturday night, in a program of mostly unaccompanied sacred music. They tuned every chord to perfection and responded instantly to Erickson’s subtle gradations of loud and soft. The sound was intensely present when hushed and hair-raising at full power. Loud or soft, you could feel the chords set the air to vibrating.
The choir dedicated the program to James Christie and Elisabeth Witte, cherished members who died last year. (Witte was murdered after a concert, a crime that was widely reported.)
Gela Sawall Ashcroft, composer, choir member and close friend of Witte, wrote “Freude” for this occasion. Yes, it could have been written in the 19th century, and it’s derivative of Brahms and Beethoven. But it is expertly derivative, and Ashcroft’s music is striking for its varied textures and irresistible celebratory mood. “Freude” might not live forever, but satisfied the moment.
That piece and the remainder of the program — Rutter, Lauridsen, Rachmaninoff, Tavener, arrangements of a spiritual and some Shaker tunes, a couple of pieces by local composers, some extravagantly arranged hymns, a double-choir Baroque extravaganza by Schuetz, a C.V. Stanford — were all solidly mainstream choral works from whatever time period. Nothing was groundbreaking. The most daring number, Erickson own arrangement of “Now Thank We All Our God,” ventured no further than some modal harmonies. The music was all competent and beautiful in conventional ways and expressed conventional spiritual sentiments.
And who doesn’t need a little of that now and then? People worked hard to sing well, sang expertly and sincerely. People came to listen, the sound shimmered within the walls of a glorious church, and those vibrations in the air moved us in ways we can barely express.
Do attend the repeat performance at 2:30 p.m. Sunday (Oct. 25). Tickets are $15 at the door.