“The Messiah” by George Frederick Handel – a performance AND a book!

First, the performance… I sang alto in the chorus for Stockton University’s Oratorio Society performance of “The Messiah” by George Frederick Handel last week, on December 13.

https://www.facebook.com/groups/stocktonoratorio/

This was a large scale performance. Two hundred singers! An organ, a grand piano and a professional chamber orchestra – all directed by Professor Beverly Vaughn, with several able assistants. It was as much drama as music. The soloists ranged from students making a first public performance to seasoned professionals. All performed exquisitely.

We performed over 80% of “The Messiah”. Most people don’t realize how much comes AFTER the “Hallelujah!”, which celebrates the resurrection of Christ. Of course I love to sing “Hallelujah!”, but I get an equal thrill from listening to “The Trumpet Shall Sound” (air for bass) which depicts the Day of Judgment. The dead are raised! The trumpet is glorious.

There’s some especially beautiful (and challenging) music at the end of “The Messiah”. Listed only as “Worthy is the Lamb” (Chorus), it’s a three part extravaganza: “Worthy is the Lamb” is followed by “Blessing…” a list of gifts:

  • Blessing
  • Honor
  • Glory
  • Power
  • Riches
  • Wisdom
  • Strength

A rich version of Christianity, but who am I to question Handel’s vision? There follows a graceful, energetic “Amen”. I hope it was as satisfying to hear as to sing.

The Stockton Messiah was performed in The Borgata Casino in Atlantic City, in their larger venue. Stockton has had difficulty “placing” “The Messiah”. I was in the audience years ago when it was offered in the University Performing Arts Center and in the Gymnasium. Neither was satisfactory. I also went to St. Nicholas of Tolentine in Atlantic City, and some other casino. Now the University has its own big event room. I think it could work, but everyone was very excited about Borgata. I fear it cost us some audience members among the University community (who wants to drive to Atlantic City on a Sunday evening?!), but maybe it evened out, and we reached other listeners.

Now, what about the book, which I excavated from my piano bench? Properly, it is called a score. Mine is the complete vocal score, published by G Schirmer, Inc. The conductor works from a full score, with all the instrumental parts, an even more impressive document. My score includes an “Introductory Note” with advice to singers and conductors. The writer places particular importance on dynamics (variations in volume). The book includes the libretto (all the words in the oratorio) with Biblical chapter and verse in every case.

One page of Handel’s original writing is reproduced at the front of the book. It was not chosen randomly, but to emphasis a point about the dynamics of a particular chorus, “Glory to God”. Gazing at this page, I think back to a time when the only way to get this music was to copy it by hand, and the only way to hear “The Messiah” was to make your way to a performance. Thinking of these difficulties, I’m profoundly grateful that this music survived into our times.

How did I get my score? It has my sister’s name in it, but she wasn’t able to tell me how she acquired it. I believe it was stolen from the church of our childhood, and I suspect our Mother may have been an accomplice. Mom worked for the church, and certainly had a proper respect for church property, but she strongly supported our musical endeavors, and I think a good bit of music was “borrowed”.

The copyright in my score dates from 1912! I love to think the book is old, but on the title page, in tiny letters, it says “Ed. 38”, so probably it’s not old, nor of particular value (except to me!)

“The Messiah” is performed by Stockton in alternate years. Will I sing in 2017? I don’t know! But I am boundlessly grateful for this year’s experience.

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