Handel's Messiah (Not the traditional Christmas Carol)

by Kim Kuhn

A few weeks ago my teenage daughter, Mariah asked if I could take her to our stake's Handel's Messiah Sing Along. I said of course since I love the music. When we arrived, we saw that the chapel and gym had been separated into 4 parts, bass, tenor, alto and soprano. We wanted to sit together, so we both sat in the alto section even though my daughter is a soprano.

We were getting comfortable when my friend who was the choir director asked if we could join the choir on the stands. Apparently, only a few of the choir members had come to rehearsal so the choir director was desperately seeking people to fill in the choir stands. Its one thing to sit with the audience, but quite another to be in the choir, since you are expected to actually know the piece very well.

I at least was familiar with the written score, but Mariah had never seen it. We decided to do it and challenge ourselves. 

I ended up sitting behind the altos and next to the tenors. Unfortunately, I don't have a good ear, so after a short while of struggling with the alto part and not being able to hear the altos in front of me, I switched to the tenor part with the men. I'm sure the audience was wondering why a woman is singing the men's part, but we ended up having a great time.

For those who are unfamiliar with Handel or his "Messiah" here are a couple of things to know.

  • George Frederic Handel was born in 1685 in Halle, Germany.
  • He was like many composers of his era in that he played several instruments. 
    Handel played the harpsichord, oboe, organ and violin. (Without the internet, e-mails and TV I'm sure there was plenty of practice time.) 
    His father wanted him to have a better social position than this own so he wanted his son to be a lawyer. His father went so far as to forbid any music or musical instruments in their home. Legend says that a small clavier was smuggled into the attic for Handel, complete with muffled strings, so that his father could not hear him as he taught himself to play.
  • When he was seven years old, he accompanied his father to Weissenfels where his playing on a chapel organ attracted the attention of the duke. The duke was so impressed by his skill that he insisted Handel be allowed to study music, because it would be a crime to rob the world of such a great genius.
  • He composed six sonatas by the time he was 11 years old. He also composed the Messiah in less than a month.
  • He became a composer for King George 1 in England and eventually became a British citizen. He died in 1759 and was buried in Westminster Abbey.
  • The Messiah was first performed in Ireland for a few charities like the debtor's prison. Almost two years later, it was performed with King George II in attendance. He stood in reverence when the "Hallelujah Chorus" began. Since no one could sit when the king was standing, everyone in the audience stood. Since that time, there has been a tradition for the audience to stand during the "Hallelujah Chorus."
  • The Messiah begins with an overture and has three parts.
    Part I - relates the prophecies that foretell the coming of the Savior and recounts his birth.
    Part II - deals with Christ's life and ministry on earth, and ends with the "Hallelujah Chorus."
    Part III - tells about Christ's death, resurrection and victory over death, and ends with the Amen Chorus"

Tip of the month: besides listening to the traditional Christmas carols, try getting Handel's Messiah from the library and listen to it. Print the words off from the internet and sing along!

Some of the information was found in "Meet the Great Composers" by June Montgomery and Maurice Hinson.