Getting a Handel on “Messiah”
One small town
Containing more churches than banks,
A ninety year old choral society
With an Advent tradition of singing Handel’s Messiah,
Seventy-some enthusiastic singers recruited without auditions
Through church bulletin announcements
Farmers, store clerks, machinists, students
Middle schoolers to senior citizens
Gather in an unheated church for nine weeks of rehearsal
To perform one man’s greatest gift to sacred music.
Handel, given a libretto, commissioned to compose,
Isolated himself for 24 days, barely ate or slept
Believed himself confronted by all heaven itself
And saw the face of God,
And so created overture, symphony, arias, oratorios
Soaring, interwoven themes repeating, resounding
With despair, mourning, anticipation
Renewal, redemption, restoration, triumph.
Delicate appoggiaturas and melismata
Of astounding complexity and intricacy.
A tapestry of sound and sensation unparalleled
To be shouted from the soul, wrung from the heart.
This group of rural people gathers to join voices
Honoring faith foretold, realized, proclaimed.
In concert parallel to original Messiah’s mission
Of performance to benefit those in need.
Ably led by a forgiving director with a sense of humor
And a nimble organist with flying feet and fingers.
The lilting sopranos with angel song,
The altos provide steadfast support,
The tenors echo plaintive prophecy
The base voices full and resonant.
An orchestra paints heaven-sent refrains
In tapestry of counterpoint melodies.
The audience sits with soft smiles, moist eyes,
As if in familiar prayer of praise.
The whole sanctuary overflows
Glory to God! For unto us a Child is born
And all the people, singers and listeners, are comforted.