Monday, November 28, 2005

Is anything as gripping as Handel's "Messiah"?

"Across the span of 250 years, Messiah still holds its extraordinary grip on musician and audience member alike. It reaches us with its directness of expression and its infinite capacity for self-renewal. It bestows on us the special gift of aesthetic and spiritual grace."--Henley Denmead

To my shame, I had never yet attended the Rockford Lutheran Choral Union's annual performance of George Frideric Handel's "Messiah," despite having lived here for over 26 years. But this past Saturday night, my daughter Elizabeth and I made our way to Trinity Lutheran Church, entered the beautiful sanctuary, found a good pew, and waited in anticipation.

I have loved music from "Messiah" since I was first really introduced to it, in junior high. Every year, Vidor Junior High School's choir performed what was no doubt a simpler version of the oratorio.

We had an outstanding choir director who taught me most of what I know about sight-reading and singing harmony, and the music program was excellent. Mrs. Sowell ran a tight ship, but she was fun and lively and I remember her fondly. She must have been at least in her mid-50's then (in the early 1970's). (If anyone from Vidor, Texas stumbles on this, I would love to know whatever happened to her.)

I remember being thrilled to get a solo in the performance in what was probably my eighth grade at VJHS. It was "He Shall Feed His Flock." (Interestingly enough, I had all but forgotten that fact until we listened to the aria Saturday night. My sister later confirmed it.)

George Frideric Handel

"I did think I did see all Heaven before me, and the great God Himself!!"

The story of Handel's composing of "Messiah" is fascinating. Apparently, Handel composed the oratorio in an amazing 21 days, never leaving his home and often refusing food and water. According to this site: "While writing the 'Hallelujah Chorus', his servant discovered him with tears in his eyes. He exclaimed, 'I did think I did see all Heaven before me, and the great God Himself!!'"

But back to Trinity Lutheran. Finally, the lights were lowered, and the small orchestra began the overture. I was instantly captivated.

The first song sung by the choir is "And the glory of the Lord." As soon as it began, and the beautiful voices wafted over us in stately and gorgeous harmony, I started crying and didn't stop for the entire length of the song.

It was not only the beauty of the music that caused my awestruck was the power, the majesty, the dignity, the authority. "And all flesh shall see it together...for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it."

I love "The Hallelujah Chorus," and it also has a powerful effect on me. But probably my favorite song from Messiah is "For unto us a child is born," and has been since I was in junior high. I don't know what it is that captivates me so much about this piece. I love the intricate harmonies, the amazing run-on vocal phrases that spiral skyward, the joyful elation of the violins. (Do listen here if you have a few moments and have any appreciation at all for classical music.)

I honestly don't think I've ever heard any music with the power to transport me to the heavenlies like Handel's Messiah. If the music in heaven is even slightly more amazing and awe-inspiring--and I believe it will actually be much more so--then we certainly have a lot to look forward to!

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