Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Christmas Music Reflections - My Messiah Adventures

By Bobby

A few days after I ran my first marathon (2004 Kiawah Island), and an informal recital at my voice teacher's home with my girlfriend at the time, and some of my teacher's friends, I sent a few other friends (my accompanist and voice teacher from a while back) my thoughts as the newspaper discussed a singalong of Händel's Messiah.

One future goal I would love to have is to participate in Händel's Messiah, even though it would probably have to be part of an independent choral project, as my church doesn't do it, and doesn't care, because the modern worship people want more rock and (karaoke) instead of piano, organ, and orchestral music, all of which I have enjoyed through the eight-month church search. (2002) (Message, not beat, matters first, as I learned from one of my friends.)

That teacher responded:

Many churches do Messiah "sing alongs" . . . They'll have a choir that knows it at the front, and soloists, and organ or orchestra, and everyone else is encouraged to bring their own score and sing along to all of the chorus numbers. I wholeheartedly suggest you check it out, because it would be a great way to get your feet wet! My first Messiah experience was really amazing, and I can't wait to someday sing the solos.

An accompanist who worked with me in my first two gigs had a few comments to respond:

I am still impressed with (the church's classical sacred) music and how singing there not only strenghtens me as a Christian, but as a musician as well. There are many churches who sing the Messiah at Christmas and I suggest finding those and joining in. In addition, just listening to the Messiah is wonderful, as well. Last night, as I helped my parents decorate the Christmas tree, I turned on the radio and listened to Bob Jones University's choirs sing the Messiah. Just look for the opportunities and they will be there.

A year later, I was emotionally drained from my father's death just over two weeks previously (there's another great story about it from the turkey trot last week; a dancer friend talked about her mother's death two weeks afterwards; three weeks afterwards and she became my dance teacher, still hoping to get that girl), and still through the voice lessons and sympathy, I decided to give a singalong a shot. It was chilly but I came in so late, I forgot to wear my jacket into the church!

A year passed, and I decided to add more training runs on weekends, especially some early Sunday mornings. One such Sunday involved me at a church where a dear college friend (who is now pregnant with the couple's third child) had married. They needed tenors, and asked if I had time. I agreed to it, and was part of the tenor section for their performance of selections of the masterpiece. I greatly enjoyed my new teammates for this one-off, and before we were ready, I learned it would be part of a special group of days I called the Six Weeks of Händel, as I would attend two, sing in two:

November 10 - Opera, Acis and Galatea
November 18 - South Carolina Philharmonic (My voice teacher is the soprano soloist)
December 10 - The performance in question which I was a guest tenor.
December 18 - Singalong (as just a member of the peanut gallery)

I was giddy following the Philharmonic performance that I did not think I could get off the emotional high of such a rousing performance of the entire masterpiece.

Last year, with energy prices skyrocketing, I cut back on travel. I attended just the singalong I had attended the previous two years (and plan again to do later this month). But this time, it ended with one of the most exciting statements I could think of writing, considering who sang in it.

Ah, the sing-along!

Imagine playing a round at Augusta National with Tiger Woods. Imagine driving around Darlington Raceway in a Chevrolet Impala with Jimmie Johnson as your spotter. Imagine playing basketball with Shaquille O'Neal as your coach. Imagine shadowing George W. Bush as the Leader of the Free World continues to march through the Bull Market, attacking Usama bin Laden and his heathens, in the continuing battle of Good and Evil.

Those thoughts were in my head as I headed to Monday's Washington Street United Methodist Church Messiah Sing-Along. When the soprano soloist is your very own voice teacher, the alto is her dear friend, and there are some choral society members
that also have your voice teacher as their teacher, something was clearly there.

One of the world's most important pieces of music, and also a masterpiece about the life of Christ Himself, Georg Fredreich Händel's Messiah debuted 265 years ago on Easter to a crowd enthralled about the oratorio intended to celebrate the Saviour from His Birth, His Life, His Passion, and The Resurrection.

Millions have sung this piece, and many more have attended performances since the 1742 debut. A popular community event is the sing-along of selections of this masterwork during the Christmas season, and that is what I had attended one of these locally is the sing-along that features the first part and the final selections from both the second and third part for which I have now attended for three years, especially since I usually find friends attending each year, whether it has been my pianist or other friends. I attempted to invite friends from my home church this year.

I cannot fathom in a few short sentences the feeling of being led by the choir leader of my voice teacher's church, the awe of a chamber orchestra, or having the sopranos and altos in the front pews since the tenors and basses already fit the choir loft. When you are at home and the choir loft has many empty seats since the past two music leaders have virtually emptied the choir with mindless theology-free and sappy secularised music (not sacred) in the choir with karaoke replacing the organ, something will only soothe the senses like your voice teacher and friends.

To hear the first part of Messiah sung with the beauty of your voice teacher's voice through "Rejoice Greatly, O Daughter of Zion" is enough to lull you into sweet music. I knew when I heard the overture I was excited to finally sing along with my very own teacher after many years. Her voice easily resonated into my heart, but I enjoyed the power of the tenor and the bass each. All four vocalists easily made clarity through, but many in the audience had problems with some selections ("And He Shall Purify," "Amen") because the audience was not seated as requested (sopranos on one side, altos on another, tenors on a third, bass on a fourth); they seated in various places that it confused tenors when they had to go, since many times tenors were sining around altos (and not other tenors).

Last year when a friend invited me to sing at their church as a guest choral member, I sat with the tenors and easily understood every note because I was around them always; but it seemed to be different when choirs are mixed so the vocal parts are bouncing around and you cannot hear your part. Sometimes I was relegated to seeing when the leader would point for tenors to go.

But this experience, my third sing-along, keeps being better. Having your own friends lead was just the icing on the cake.

I enjoy watching the Fox News Channel, and John Gibson has frequently discussed the War on Christmas, and Bill O'Reilly warns about the secularisation of America. I ask has the secularisation of the Christmas season gone one step too many with the absurd winter songs that appear on the radio, and the continuous winter themes that have infiltrated our culture. When a college friend is in Australia, and it's clearly summer there, there is an obvious reason after meeting her to reject things that are "winter holiday". I cannot stand the bombardment of these "fake" Christmas "songs" on the air because they run the importance of Christmas for what it truly means -- the Birth of the Saviour.

Have we secularised Christmas to the point that at schools and churches, we permit Elmo and Patsy sing "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer", we let any type of bogus vocalist perform "Frosty the Snowman," or other winter music tunes of snow replace songs such as "Rejoice Greatly, O Daughter of Zion," or "O Thou That Tellest Good Tidings to Zion"?

Given a choice, I'll have my voice teacher and friends singing those masterpieces of Händel. It's an interesting reflection, but I am excited about taking another shot.

Any of you considering singing sacred masterpieces for Christmas instead of the OCP/GIA/EMI/UMG/WMG junk on the market today?

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