Finding "normal" through Handel's "Messiah"

Collage of students singingJoey Griffith '22 wasn’t expecting to be planning a virtual presentation of a beloved choral work with the Harvard-Radcliffe Collegium Musicum and Harvard Baroque Chamber Orchestra on Jan.30. But it has been an experience of a lifetime. 

By Alicia Anstead, Associate Director for Programming at OFA

Joey Griffith '22 lives in Dunster House and is studying Sociology and African-American Studies. On campus, he is the Manager Emeritus and Tenor 1 of the Harvard-Radcliffe Collegium Musicum. He also sings with the Harvard University Choir and Cambridge Common Voices. Having started singing at a young age, Griffith continues voice lessons with Nathan Reiff and previously with Frank Kelley and Rebecca Rapoport-Cole. In addition to singing on campus, Griffith is a manager for the Harvard Men’s Basketball team and is an avid pickup basketball player in his spare time.
Headshot of Joseph Griffith '22What drew you to singing with the Collegium? 
I grew up singing my whole life and had a lot of exposure to choral music and choral groups, especially in high school. When I got to Harvard, I knew I wanted to spend most of my time singing and in that realm. Fortunately, I had met our conductor, Andy Clark, in high school singing with members of the Handel and Haydn Society and my high school chorus. Having that pre-established relationship and knowing some people in Collegium, I had a feeling that would be the group for me. But before I got to campus I visited a rehearsal in high school, and I was welcomed with open arms by members of the group. Even though I had just met many of the members and hadn’t even auditioned yet, I knew this would be even more than a singing group, but a family.
There’s so much literature out there for large vocal groups. Why the Messiah right now? 
As Nivi Ravi, the president of Collegium, our conducting team and I were trying to figure out how to plan a virtual choir and trying to replicate the experience online, we kept coming back to this idea of finding some semblance of normalcy and supporting the needs of all of our singers. Way before the pandemic hit, our original plan was to sing Messiah at Sanders Theater before Christmas. Unfortunately that couldn’t happen. Given the well-known nature of Messiah and its extensive depth of topics and music, we felt that it would be a good way to figure out online choir while making it feel “normal.”
We all spend so much time on screens right now. What’s your advice for a concert like this – how to optimize seeing yet another screen event in the arts?
I’ll start by saying that screen fatigue is real. Having watched a few virtual performances, my advice would be to try and replicate as much as you can of the experience you are used to. For me, that’s setting up computer to my TV so I can watch it on a bigger screen, and watching with family and interacting with friends. Consuming the arts is such an incredible thing, and I’ve found that doing so with others right now adds so much positivity and joy to the experience.
Cast of MessiahYou’re serving as both a choral member and the person in charge of general operations for this production. What have you learned as an arts administrator? Is there anything about your singing that has informed your more administrative role?
I’ve been extremely grateful to have had the opportunity to have a hands-on role with the choir I love so much. I’ve come to understand how much influence music can have on bringing people together and how much joy and healing singers and audience alike can get from it. Even when tasks were difficult, the expression of other singers in Collegium during rehearsal or hearing previews of this Messiah project really showed how powerful this experience is. Working behind the scenes while also singing in the group really showed me what worked and what didn’t work, but also gave me the chance to represent the desires and needs of other singers during these difficult times. When I first signed on as manager in 2020, I wasn’t expecting to be planning a virtual choral season and working remotely with my peers, but this has been an experience of a lifetime that I wouldn’t trade for anything. I’m excited to see the culmination of everyone’s hard work.