Messiah Sing - A New Tradition
“Don’t you ever get tired of singing Messiah?” This is a question that I have been asked countless times over the years in regards to Handel’s beloved masterwork, Messiah. It is a piece of music that is loved by many around the globe. Though technically an Easter work when performed in its entirety, performances of the Christmas portion of Messiah are as associated with the holiday season as the Nutcracker ballet.
Over the course of my nearly 30-year professional performing career, and several times before as a kid, I have had the pleasure of singing this great work of sacred music: more than 75 times as a soloist, countless other times as a chorister, still more times just an excerpted chorus here or there in a church service with a choir. This is the first time I get to conduct it! Every performance is special. Every performance I learn something new. The years I don’t get to sing Messiah, I feel like there is something missing.
I have a very special relationship with this music. I have sung with amateur choirs, professional choirs, symphonic choirs, and church choirs big and small. I have sung the work in small country churches and large city churches. I have sung it in high school auditoriums and the Kennedy Center. I have sung it with period instruments and modern instruments. I have sung Messiah with original orchestration and Mozart's re-orchestration (which adds clarinet and French horn into the mix). Many soloists and conductors have become long-time friends because of this music.
I have been a part of many memorable Messiah performances over the years. There was the one time I was stuck on the Jersey Turnpike and made it to a concert hall in Maryland just as the chorus was walking on the stage for the concert. I have never seen a chorister look so relieved to see me, as the one who was drafted to sing the opening tenor recitative and aria - Comfort ye and Ev’ry Valley if I hadn’t made it on-time.
There was the memorable Messiah sing at the Hendricks Avenue Baptist Church in Jacksonville, FL on December 22, 2007. The sing-along was a fundraiser for the Jacksonville Symphony musicians who were, at the time, locked-out during a prolonged contract dispute. Sadly, there was an electrical fire at the church early in the morning of the 23rd, burning the entire church to the ground days before Christmas. Memorable also was the resurrection of that same church building, singing Messiah in front of a standing room crowd at the dedication of the brand new sanctuary and pipe organ. I was honored to join the same quartet of soloists and the Jacksonville Symphony in celebration on December 23, 2009, two years to the day of that horrific fire.
But most influential, if not the most memorable, may well have been my first Christmas Messiah. Singing in the choir as a high-schooler at St. Timothy United Methodist Church in Stone Mountain, GA, I got my first taste of singing this important music. There is something about coming together as a community to collectively raise a voice to sing such beautiful music. This is where Handel’s Messiah first made a huge mark on me. I thought it was really cool to sing with an orchestra. I was transfixed by the soloists. Little would I know at the time, how much I would keep coming back to Handel - like a warm hug from an old friend.
So this year, whether it is your first time or 200th time singing Messiah choruses or if you just come to listen to some great music and soak it all in, I hope you find this new tradition a gift to you and to the entire St. John’s community during this holiday season. Join us on Sunday, December 3, 2023 at 4 pm for our first Community Messiah Sing.