Steve and Molly Child on Their Experience with ACS
By Stephanie Zaza, ACS Board Member and Singer
Interview Conducted on November 13, 2020:
Each year while we are all planning our holiday menus, travel, gift-giving, guest lists and decorations, a group of local musicians are also preparing their annual performance of Handel’s Messiah. This year will mark Aspen Choral Society’s 43rd annual presentation of the beloved piece. But, due to COVID-19 social distancing restrictions and the high risk of transmission in choirs, this year’s event will offer an innovative twist inspired by the emergence of virtual choirs on YouTube and other online outlets.
We are preparing our virtual Messiah 360 in isolation from each other and miss our time working together, but have also been able to share a few stories during Zoom calls. I was inspired to call two of Aspen Choral Society’s longest and most active singers, Molly and Steve Child, to talk with them about their experiences. They shared their reflections on singing as a critical part of their lives and health and why singing in the Aspen Choral Society is so important to them, their stories about the early days of the Aspen Choral Society, and their favorite venues. Molly had to leave part way through our conversation to head over to Snowmass Chapel for her “studio” appointment to record parts for our upcoming presentation of Messiah, but Steve and I carried on for a while longer.
SZ: Tell me about meeting Ray Adams and starting the annual Messiah performances.
Steve: Molly met Ray Adams first when they were both teaching at the Wildwood Pre-School. This was before he started up the choir to sing Messiah.
Molly: Ray was fun to teach with, but he’d get the kids wound up at nap time by playing guitar. I’d be sitting there rubbing their backs and trying to get them to calm down, and he’d start playing these wild songs and the kids would jump up and start dancing!
Steve: We remember seeing Ray Adams perform at the Carbondale Talent Show. He was dressed as Leon Redbone and sang “Wasted Days and Wasted Nights.” He had an electric guitar, tight black leather pants, and waist-length hair. He was amazing – he just knocked it out of the park!
When Ray started pulling the choir together for Messiah, Karen Tafejian was our accompanist and we only ever had a piano or organ for a while before we started using an orchestra. And, Laurie Loeb was Ray’s first wife – we think she sang in the choir until we started using an orchestra and has been the tympanist for the Messiah performances ever since.
SZ: You were both part of the first or second Messiah performance. How many do you think you’ve done over the years?
We have been scratching our heads trying to remember – I vaguely remember that Ray was doing a Messiah the year before we started, because we were thinking that would be a neat thing to do. So my best guess is that we actually started the second year. Molly and I both started at the same time and have sung most but not all of the Messiah performances. There were several years when I was driving snowcats at night and couldn’t attend rehearsals or performances, so missed those years. Molly has sung in only a few of the spring Choral Society performances, while I have sung in most of them.
SZ: What draws you back year after year?
Molly: I love the fact that the ACS feels like a big family where people care about each other. That’s been going on from the very start. And Paul has increased that sense of unity even more. Every time we practice, he asks us to take a minute, close our eyes, relax, leave the worries of the day, enjoy our time together. It’s an amazing thing he does. And, just being able to keep singing during this difficult time in our history is crucial for our well-being and sanity.
Steve: Singing to me is my mental health therapy – I sing a lot with ACS both the Messiah and spring concert every year, and I also sing at Snowmass Chapel and at the Aspen Chapel. It’s an important break from the pressures of my job.
Molly: The Aspen Choral Society is a family and we enjoy each other’s company. Our final performance each year is usually in Glenwood Springs and afterward it is always so much fun for all of us to go to the Glenwood Canyon Brewpub at The Hotel Denver. All these people dressed in black and white crowding into the Brewpub. The orchestra and chorus all mix together and have fun. We stay until they kick us out.
SZ: Tell me a bit about some of the members of the ACS family.
Molly: I remember one of our soloists – Marti Begly who is now deceased. She lived in Marble and had five children, some of whom also sang in the chorus. When she sang “Rejoice, Rejoice Greatly” you absolutely knew she meant it! She was an incredible singer. You could sense the joy she had and the deep spirituality she brought to her singing.
Steve: When Ray was hospitalized at St. Mary’s Hospital in Grand Junction at the end of his life, 40 or more members of the choir went to sing for him. The nurses brought him to a big lobby area and sat with him. We sang 3 or 4 songs, some from Messiah and a song about “the roll of the sea” that we had recently performed. That was the last time we saw him. We weren’t sure if ACS would keep going or not. There was so much love in ACS for each other and for Ray.
The first time I met Paul Dankers, he was singing the countertenor solo in Carmina Burana about the swan turning on the spit – he actually turned while singing. That was our first introduction to Paul Dankers – what an amazing voice!
Aspen Choral Society is a community choir – we are like family and like to help each other. I’ve been honored over the years to have several people seek me out to stand next to them in the bass section because I’ve sung the songs for years and know the notes; I think it helps build their confidence. Jeremy Moore stood next to me one year – he was from Salida and his parents would bring him over to sing in the concerts. One year he was a boy soprano and the next year his voice had changed and he was a baritone. He didn’t know that part so he stood next to me so he could learn it. He’s now a professional singer living on the east coast!
SZ: What are some of your favorite venues for ACS performances over the years?
Steve: We’ve sung all up and down the valley in different venues – Glenwood Methodist Church, Grace Church, Harris Concert Hall, St. Steven’s Church in Glenwood – all with very good acoustics.
My favorite place to sing was in St. Mary’s church in Aspen. The acoustics were so interesting, and when we filled up every seat it was just magical – having the whole community come out was magical. Now our Aspen venue is the Wheeler Opera House. One of the most memorable Wheeler Opera House performances was the year John Denver sang the tenor solos with us for Messiah and then had a children’s Christmas choir from Aspen that sang a few songs. John Denver didn’t actually practice very much and made a lot of mistakes. But it was a lot of fun!
About 40 of us traveled to New York City in 2018 and got to sing at Carnegie Hall – that was probably the most memorable venue I’ve ever sung in. We joined with people from 15 or 20 different choral groups from around the country. That was one of the most amazing experiences I’ve ever had singing.
The virtual Messiah 360 performance that we are working on right now is the most unusual “venue.” At this point, I’ve recorded 6 of the 8 choral works – the individual singers and orchestra members record their parts separately. Paul is conducting us via video recordings he made – dressed in his tuxedo and conducting each piece in a different natural setting around the Roaring Fork Valley. It’s an interesting process and a labor of love by Paul to edit all the voices and faces together on the screen. I’m looking forward to seeing the final product.
SZ: I’m new to singing, and I’ve learned that it’s hard to get the notes out if I get emotional during a performance. Has that happened to you?
Steve: I think the most poignant singing experience for me was in 2002. My father was dying in California. We had done all the rehearsals and our first performance was in Glenwood Methodist Church. I sang that performance for him – and cried through the whole thing. I left after the performance to be with him. He was in a coma, but I hope his soul could hear me singing.
I also remember that sometimes during poignant moments in Messiah, Ray would stop conducting, wrap his arms around himself with his eyes closed and just enjoy the music. And, usually, he would get back to conducting before the end of the piece, but sometimes he would just let us finish it out on our own. Watching his face from the choir side – the audience couldn’t see him – was just priceless – he would smile or frown in concentration or sing along with us with such joy.
SZ: Steve, thank you so much for talking with me, and thank Molly again for me. It’s such a pleasure to sing with you both and the whole Aspen Choral Society.
Steve: Oh, thank you for doing this. As I was preparing for our call today I had a flood of memories from dozens and dozens of performances I’ve done with Aspen Choral Society. You know, every year when we’re rehearsing and performing Messiah, sharing our musical talent – I feel that it is my Christmas gift to the community.