Holiday revelers are having little trouble finding live musical and dramatic performances around the country this year, a welcome sign we’re learning to live as normally as possible in the midst of a pandemic. From large concert halls to neighborhood school auditoriums and churches, most Americans are preparing their hearts and minds for Christmas.
Ironically, one place where there will be no singing will be inside the lobby of Pfizer’s New York City headquarters. Like last year, Christmas concerts for the pharmaceutical giant’s corporate glee club, the Pfizer Choraliers, have been canceled — a casualty of the ongoing pandemic and the limitations and restrictions of a remote workforce.
“It’s our hope they can be back together in person next year to perform for Pfizer employees as well as the local hospitals they performed at prior to the pandemic,” said Kit Longley, senior manager for the company’s science media relations department.
For nearly four decades, throughout the 1960s, ’70s, ’80s and ’90s, my father, Jim Batura, was president of the Pfizer singing group. Although he made a living negotiating the purchase of raw materials for many of the company’s most popular medicines, my dad’s first love was music. He was happiest when he was singing — and especially thrilled that the leadership of his global, multibillion-dollar employer saw value in song.
Corporate choral groups are a vestige of a gentler time. Many companies had them — meandering employee minstrels singing on behalf of their company. It was good for morale — and great for public relations. The holidays were prime time for them.
When I was a kid, my mother would bring us into Manhattan each Christmas season to watch my dad’s annual concert. The men wore powder-blue blazers with the Pfizer insignia on the breast pocket. They performed at lunchtime in the lobby before Nikos Bel-Jon’s 40-foot-long curved metallic mosaic featuring the symbols and figures of chemicals and medicines through history.
At the conclusion of each concert, the director would invite whoever was in attendance and knew the words, to join in singing the “Hallelujah Chorus” — the most famous part of George Frideric Handel’s oratorio “Messiah.” My dad said the dramatic finale provided perspective. Pfizer was producing medicine “for the world’s well-being,” but Mr. Handel reminds us, “The kingdom of this world is become the Kingdom of our Lord.”
It took Mr. Handel just 24 days to compose and complete the Messiah. At the end of the inspired rush he reflected, “I did think I did see all Heaven before me, and the great God Himself seated on His throne, with His company of angels.”
At 285 days, it took 12 times longer for Operation Warp Speed to deliver coronavirus vaccines. A new antiviral pill promises even more hope. But given the average vaccine and medicine take up to 10 years to develop, both Mr. Handel and Big Pharma defied expectations, and by a lot.
Nobody really knows what to expect in the coming year. Truth be told, where this pandemic is going — whether we’re nearing its end or the beginning of its end, or we’re just at the end of its beginning — is almost anyone’s guess.
But what we do know is that Christmas is coming, and with it all the familiar carols and hymns from Mr. Handel and others down through the years. We can be grateful our city and state are open and we’re lifting our voices together in song. Christmas and its music remind us that all of the troubles and trials of this world (including a pandemic) will eventually pass away, ushering in the joys of the next, where Christ will “reign forever and ever.”
• Paul J. Batura is a writer based in Colorado Springs. He can be reached via email Paul@PaulBatura.com or Twitter @PaulBatura.
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