I went to Messiah last Sunday. The sing-along version (although for me, that is all of them.) And since all the cool bloggers recap their weekends, or give you a preview of the awesome restaurant/movie/art museum they plan on frequenting I shall join the hoard. Here comes a full-blown Messiah recap. You may need to set aside the next three hours.
The first thing to do is plan dinner before. You need food that’s fairly quick nourishing. I’ve hosted a dinner at my apartment before, but we cut it too close and got stuck in the balcony. My favorite hipster coffee-shop was the designated spot this year. A glass of wine, a plate of cheese and we would be ready for the best night of the year. Alas, it was not to be. We ended up at the bookstore’s coffee shop and I ate too many olives and flatbread while chugging a glass of wine because I was antsy about the time.
We walked around the corner to the church that hosts the singalong every year. As we walked in at 6:45, we were turned away because there was no room in the sanctuary (fitting, rather). Lindsay marched in anyways and we found ourselves in the very front row. Because remember, this is in a church, and the front row is always empty. Yeah, we landed the best seats in the house.
The first words of Messiah are “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people” from Isaiah. And the altos get to enter first in “And the glory of the Lord.” It’s a big moment, as altos spend most of Messiah singing F,G,A. There are measures we spend singing the same note over and over. But it’s ok, George. Happy to oblige. I also, weirdly enjoy the challenge of not singing the melody. In fact, if you get too close I will try to throw you off your part. Just ask my sisters. I do this in church all the time.
I also weirdly enjoy following the score the entire time. I think the equivalent would be following along with a script while you watch a movie or play (which I have also done). Anyways, all went swimmingly. The bass soloist in particular was excellent. I would like him to sing “The Trumpet Shall Sound” at all the funerals.
And then the “Hallelujah Chorus.” Oh, Hallelujah Chorus. I almost always tear up when I hear it. Especially when the tempo slows slightly to the words “The kingdom of this world is become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ. And he shall reign forever and ever.” I do not like contemporary Christian music much. A lot of the lyrics seem to vague and repetitive to me. I question their theology. This is totally a matter of personal preference, and I have nothing against contemporary music, although I do take issue and disagree with the implication that it is somehow more spiritual just because it tends to appeal to emotion. I am deeply moved by the hymns, liturgy, and traditions. However, like any emotional non-denom on a Sunday morning I closed my eyes during the Hallelujah Chorus, swayed back and forth, and may have timidly raised my right hand in worship. What can I say? I’m hard to pin down.
I love hearing the voices of the congregation around me. It is by no means the most beautiful performance of the Messiah. But there’s such an earnestness and zeal in these voices. The sweet little old lady who sat next to me lost her place so many times. I helped her find it once or twice, and then she warbled away not quite in tune, but singing with such a zest for the music it hardly mattered.
Messiah finishes with Revelation and the second coming (which is partially what advent is all about). “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and glory, and blessing…Blessing, and honour, and glory, and power, be unto him that sitteth upon the thrown, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever.” And then the Amens. So many Amens chasing each other and blending together. There are short Amens and long Amens and one with many notes and a few with only two notes. It goes on for a long time, 5 minutes of Amen, maybe?
And then it’s over. And we put on our coats and smile a little sadly because it’s all over until next year. I’ve loved Messiah since college when I obsessively learned it and performed it. It makes me a little sad that most of the performances of Messiah are secular. If I were queen of the world, I would make all the churches perform the “Hallelujah Chorus.” It is impossible to hate the “Hallelujah Chorus.” And as far as choral pieces go, it’s not that difficult to learn. And if it was good enough to make King George III rise to his feet then it should be good enough to get squeezed in between Chris Tomlin this and Chris Tomlin that and whatever country music version we’re singing of “Joy to the World.”
So until next year, I will listen to Messiah through this advent season and break it out in October and count the days until the first Sunday of Advent and I get to sing again!