Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Handel's Messiah: A Christmas Tradition

This flash mob performance of Handel's Messiah is extraordinary. Watch it. Watch the expressions of the surprised audience, and the joy on the faces of the performers. Listen to the inspiried music, and listen for your own stirrings of emotion.

When I was growing up, my parents had an RCA Victor recording of Messiah, conducted by Sir Thomas Beecham: four records, plus a book containing the libretto, illustrated with paintings by Botticelli, Durer, Van Eyck, El Greco, and others. I have their recording now; in this day of CD's and DVD's and iPods and YouTube, we don't play the LP's, but the set reminds me of my parents.

The family story is that my parents bought a stereo system before they bought a bed, and slept on a mattress on the floor. That stereo system consisted of two large cabinets, containing the turntable and the speakers. By 'large' I mean waist high, and 2 or 3 feet long (is that right? or is that the memory of a small child?). Anyway, my parents' recording, via this stereo system, was how I first heard Messiah.

I suspect that most people are introduced to Messiah via the Hallelujah Chorus. Certainly that was the piece I initially recognized and enjoyed. From there, I grew to know For Unto Us a Child is Born. This was my mother's particular favorite; she always claimed to have worn out that section of the record.

Over the years, I listened to Messiah in various settings, with different performers, and the more I listened, the more I grew to love all of it. The Trumpet Shall Sound became one of my favorite pieces, and always made me think of my Uncle John (although I never actually heard him perform it, and could only imagine his music).

I attended performances of the Mendelssohn Choir with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, and performances with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. Sometimes, I was able to attend sing-along performances, where the crowd made up in enthusiasm what it lacked in skill. Here in Kalamazoo, I attended a performance of Messiah in beautiful Stetson Chapel at Kalamazoo College (one of my favorite settings). And in Chicago, I watched my brother Dave perform Messiah with the Apollo Chorus, in Symphony Hall.

I love this music. It has become a year-round favorite, and an essential part of my Christmas celebration. Spencer J Condie wrote in his article Handel and the Gift of Messiah
Upon completing his composition, he [Handel] humbly acknowledged, “God has visited me.” Those who feel the touch of the Holy Spirit as they experience the overpowering testimony of Handel’s Messiah would agree.
Are you looking for a new Christmas tradition? I recommend Handel's Messiah, for the spirit it will bring. And frankly, if you're new to Messiah, that flash mob video is as good a place to start as any.

1 comment:

  1. One of my most moving experiences with the Messiah was in Japan. An international choir (of which Rachelle was a part -- I had planned to participate but didn't have time for rehearsals) sang it, and it was lovely. I also remember attending a performance in the LutherKirche in Worms the first Christmas of my mission. I was so naive then I was surprised to hear it sung in English!