Tom Strini

Steve Murphy’s fall; MSO Chorus at St. Anthony’s

By - Oct 24th, 2009 11:43 pm
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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.


Steve Murphy, stunt baritone.

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:

“After he fell, I jumped down from my spot to see if he was doing okay.  Without talking (since there was a women’s piece being sung at the moment), he let me know that he still wanted to sing.  His hand shaking in pain, he motioned to the copy of “Amazing Grace” that laid on the altar, where it fell after his music sprayed across the floor.  I handed it to him, and at the appropriate time he limped back to the choir to sing the song.  Leaning against the side wall, he sang beautifully.  After singing his solo, he limped back to a chair behind the chorus, where he stayed until the concert was over.”

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.

The Milwaukee Symphony Chorus. MSO web site photo.

The Milwaukee Symphony Chorus. MSO web site photo.

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.

Categories: Classical, Culture Desk

0 thoughts on “Steve Murphy’s fall; MSO Chorus at St. Anthony’s”

  1. Anonymous says:

    A wonderful tribute to a fantastic group. Wish I could have been in the concert this time. Looking forward to joining up again very soon. Thank you, Tom, for giving me a reminder of why I sing with this wonderful group. It makes me miss them even more.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Thank you for articulating so beautifully my feelings about this terrific concert, Tom!

  3. Anonymous says:

    Lovely review; I look forward to this afternoon’s performance! The Chorus’s stand-alone concerts are always gems, IMHO.

  4. Anonymous says:

    I came to the concert today, Sunday, and it was simply wonderful. Thanks, Tom Strini, for giving such tribute to this wonderful singing group. Having sung in three choirs myself over the years, I was impressed by the quality of every voice in the group.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Thanks,everyone, for taking a moment to comment.–Tom

  6. Anonymous says:

    I loved this concert. The opening Te Deum showed the MSO Chorus, Lee Erickson’s direction and St. Anthony’s beautiful surroundings and outstanding acoustics at their best. They brought tears to my eyes and chills of awe up my spine…..A wonderful tribute. Thank you Lee and Chorus!

  7. Anonymous says:

    Sounds like it was a wonderful tribute. Wish I could have been there and heard Steve Murphy’s solo. Am certain it was superb!

  8. Anonymous says:

    Steve, I hope that you recover quickly and easily. Thank you for your commitment to both your art and to honor the memory of your friends. Best wishes! RRW

  9. Anonymous says:

    The qualities that Steve showed under duress make me appreciate my choral colleagues in this stellar organization even more! Steve, you sang your heart out! Bravo! May you heal with the greatest of speed!

  10. Anonymous says:

    I attended the Sunday concert after reading your review, and enjoyed every minute. A wonderful performance.

  11. Anonymous says:

    The Show MUST go ON!!!! wonderful performance work ethic!

  12. Anonymous says:

    Thanks to all for the kind comments and best wishes. I am on the mend and feeling better with each passing day. I am so proud of the Milwaukee Symphony Chorus and the artistry it has developed under Lee Erickson, and I am humbled to be a part of it.

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