Friday, December 5, 2008

Like No Other

For me, the holiday season is not complete without hearing at least a recording, if not a live presentation, of Messiah, George Frederick Handel's famous oratorio which he wrote over a period of 24 days in 1741.

The score includes orchestral pieces as well as both choruses and solos. The words are entirely from Scripture. Although most often performed at the Christmas season, the works encompass the prophecy, birth, crucifixion and resurrection of Christ. Some of the better known portions include "For Unto Us a Child is Born" and "Hallelujah."

I was first introduced to this magnificent work as high school sophomore chorister in South Arkansas. Our combined high school choirs and youth orchestra performed at our local municipal auditorium. It was a challenging task for high schoolers but I thought it came off beautifully. A vinyl record album was even made of our rendition, which included all the shuffling and coughing that came with the performance. I played it so much I think I finally wore it out.

I have participated in and heard a number of Messiah performances since that time. I now have a CD of one performed by a London choir and orchestra. Older Son and Daughter have both participated in performances. No matter who is performing, professional or amateur, I am always moved and get chills down my spine from the time I hear the overture until the last piece, usually the Hallelujah chorus. It is a complicated work, yet paradoxically simple as it tells the timeless story of Messiah coming to earth. I am at once moved by the beautiful music as well as the words.

There are few things about which I am a purist, but Handel's Messiah is one of them. None of the pieces should ever be changed or shortened in any way, nor should they ever be performed as a contemporary chorus or "praise song." I have heard some horrible take-offs on the Hallelujah Chorus and have, unfortunately, over the years occasionally heard a modern artist include one of the beautiful songs from Messiah jazzed up as part of a Christmas album. This is nothing short of blasphemy and cheapens Handel's incredible masterpiece. There is a place for every style of music, but there is never a reason to so chop up a creation as to be insulting.

Tonight one of our local churches hosted a "Messiah Sing-Along" where a choir, orchestra and soloists performed the work, but audience members were given a score and invited to sing with the choruses. Older Son and I went and enthusiastically lent our out-of-practice voices to the timeless pieces. I was again in awe of the beauty and wonder of the glorious music and was reminded anew of how God sent Messiah as His amazing gift to the world.

"For Unto Us a Child is Born, unto us a son is given, and the government shall be upon His shoulder and His name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace."

To that, what can a person say, but Hallelujah?!


Debby said...

We had an opera singer come to our small church, and he sang from the 'Messiah'. It was so powerful. I had just been diagnosed, and there were all these uncertainties, but hearing that voice thunder God's reassurance just blew my mind. I felt like he had been sent just for me...and so did every single person in that church

I have sadly never heard the whole thing before, but have always wanted to.

Kelly said...

It's been several years since I've attended a performance of "Messiah". The local Chorale does it about every other year... in fact they performed it last weekend at our church.

I remember doing the entire work, Easter portion included, with the Shreveport Symphony when I was in the choir at Centenary. Lengthy, but beautiful.

I don't think I knew Handel wrote it in such a short period of time! Impressive!!!

Pam said...

I love Handel's 'Messiah'!!! I got chill bumps just reading your post.