2 There’s nothing that proclaims the joy of Christmas more than the “Hallelujah Chorus” of Handel’s “Messiah.”
That’s why the community is invited to a free “Messiah Sing-In” and to become the choir at 7 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 6, at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church. The audience/choir will accompany some outstanding local soloists in singing the inspirational music.
An average of about 200 area residents have participated in past “Sing-Ins,” said Terry R. Bowman, St. Luke’s choir director, but the sanctuary can seat — or stand — about 300 and they’d like to fill it with holy praise.
“Each year Baton Rouge joins communities all around the nation, and, in fact, all around the world, where communities get together and sing some parts of ‘Handel’s Messiah’,” said Bowman, the event’s conductor. An Internet search for ‘Handel’s Messiah community sing-alongs’ shows hundreds of events across the country.
“We sing part one of ‘Messiah,’ which is the story related to Christ’s birth, and then we sing, of course, the very famous ‘Hallelujah Chorus,’ ” Bowman said. “We have a whole collection of people from Catholic churches, from Protestant churches. Some are choir members and some aren’t, and we have a great time. It’s fun!”
The work is an oratorio, a musical piece usually based on some religious event that is performed for voice and orchestra with the story told through the music, not with scenery, costumes and action. The work has three parts, and the “Hallelujah Chorus” is the end of part two. The entire piece would take more than 2½ hours to perform.
“We do about an hour of it,” Bowman said.
Bowman said the congregation/choir is divided according to what parts they sing — soprano, alto, tenor and bass — just as if they were a choir. But if, for example, couples want to stay together singing their different parts, that’s OK.
The sing-in is open to everyone, and if you don’t want to sing, that’s OK too, he said.
“Messiah” was composed by George Frideric Handel. Its text was compiled by Charles Jennens from the King James Bible and from the version of the Psalms included with the Book of Common Prayer, according to a 2009 article in the Smithsonian magazine.
Part one prophesied the birth of Jesus Christ; part two exalted his sacrifice for humankind; and the final section heralded his resurrection, according to the article.
Handel wrote the oratorio in 24 days in late summer of 1741, according to the introduction in Bowman’s hard-back copy. The composer intended it for an Easter performance. It was first performed at a benefit concert in Dublin, Ireland, on April 13, 1742, where Handel personally conducted the orchestra and singers.
The Baton Rouge Sing-In is co-sponsored by St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and the Baton Rouge Chapter of the American Guild of Organists.
Dan Talbot, organist for First Baptist Church of Baton Rouge, has been accompanying the event for decades.
“I think the ‘Messiah Sing-In’ started in 1973 or 1974 after the new Schlicker pipe organ was installed at First Methodist Church,” Talbot said. “There were about six choir directors, and each director brought their organist, as well as a soloist from their church. It was broken up so that each director conducted one of the choruses and their singer/organist took care of the solos and recits (a passage of melodic speech).” Talbot said he played for the sing-in for a dozen years before it waned for a few years.
“So many people started calling about missing singing ‘Messiah’ that we started it back in 1990 at Our Lady of Mercy, with Mike Williams conducting,” Talbot said. “It continued there four years until 1994 when it was moved to St. Luke’s,” where Bowman is the conductor.
The work is divided into “Recitative & Air,” or solos performed by local soloists, then followed by a chorus where the audience/choir sings, Bowman explained. Each “Recitative & Air” is like a chapter of the story with its own title, such as, “Comfort ye my people; every valley shall be exalted,” followed by the chorus, “And the glory of the Lord.”
The soloists are an outstanding group of talented local singers, Bowman said, including tenor Greg Gallagher, baritone Keith James, mezzo-sopranos Jennifer Johnson and Dana Lux, bass Cody King and sopranos Rhonda Zielinski, Jennifer Ellis and JoAnn Puissegur.
A lot of area singers and choir members already have their own scores they bring with them, Bowman said, but if someone wants to sing and doesn’t have one, they have about 75 copies available.
“There is a great sense of satisfaction for everyone because this music is timeless,” Bowman said. “Handel wrote the ‘Messiah’ in the 1700s and 300 years later people still love it. People have told us that through the years this is the highlight of their Christmas experience.”