Add Handel Choir to list of struggling ensembles

The Handel Choir of Baltimore, with a remarkable 74-year history behind it, is being hit by the same financial struggles that have plagued other arts organizations in the area. There is no talk of canceling concerts or going bankrupt (like Baltimore Opera), but the choir is cutting back on paid staff, and artistic director Melinda O'Neal has taken a reduction in salary. And, after one last performance on Sunday, the organization's subsidiary group, the Handel Children's Choir (founded in 2000), will be shut down. There's not enough money for the necessary staff to run it. "If the parent organization doesn't thrive, we can't sponsor anything," O'Neal told me today. 

The Handel Choir's situation is a now familar one: A drop in ticket sales and contributed income this year, reflecting the overall economic decline. On the plus side: No debt. "We're not trying to crawl out of hole," board vice president Leslie Greenwald said this afternoon. "We've always been very careful about our cash-flow, adn we're managing it. But we had to make painful decisions. We're certainly looking forward to the spring concerts." An anonymous patron has made a $25,000 challenge grant to help with fundraising. O'Neal told me, "The choir and the board are realistic, but also optimistic. I don't think the Handel Choir will go under. We've been through tough times before."

As for the Children's Choir, word of the disbanding caught the kids and their parents by surprise. There is talk among those parents about trying to keep the ensemble going on their own. And O'Neal said, "I will do anything I can to keep those children singing." 

The Children's Choir performs what may be its swan song at 4 p.m. Sunday at First English Lutheran Church, 3807 North Charles St. Tickets are $10; free for children 12 and under. As for the Handel Choir, its performance of Handel's Messiah is at 8 p.m. Saturday at the Church of the Immaculate Conception, 200 Ware Ave. Towson. Tickets are $25 to $44.


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