Saturday, December 5, 2015

Handel’s Messiah and the Christmas Spirit

Handel’s Messiah has been deeply imbedded in my consciousness since I was very young.  On Sundays my parents would play recordings of the Mormon Tabernacle choir singing the Messiah through most of the years of growing up.  Its melodies and classical sound brought peace and serenity to our loud and rambunctious family.   

Naturally, after all this exposure to the Messiah, when a ward we were in announced there would be a stake Messiah sing-along, I jumped at the chance to go participate.  I figured that after all my years of hearing it, I should easily be able to sing along with the songs.  

Ha. Ha.  To my surprise, it was harder than I thought.  Much harder, in fact.  All the weaving in and out of melody motifs made it hard for me to pick out my part.  I was inclined to sing along with every part rather than stick with just one.  But I did learn one thing—that I loved trying to sing along for reals and I wanted to do it more.  The itch had taken hold.

Another few years and our next stake announced a stake choir practicing the Messiah, I jumped at the chance to participate in the choir.  The music was tricky, but it was such a rush to learn my part, to sing those phrases.

For unto us a child is born…

And the glory, the glory of the Lord shall be revealed..

Glory to God, glory to God, glory to God in the highest…

Worthy is the Lamb…


But even more than the pleasure of singing those songs in a choir was the blessing of having the music loop through my head outside of practices.  It really made the Christmas season more beautiful and meaningful in the middle of all the hurry and hustle of holiday preparations. 

The member of the church who organized those Messiah choirs must have gotten a lot of positive feedback from everyone because he continued to organize Messiah choir performances at Christmas a number of years afterward, until he passed away unexpectedly.  (Brother Marshall, we miss you!)  Each year I participated as long as we remained in that stake. 

For a few years, however, I haven’t had a Messiah choir to be in, so this year I decided to take up the challenge of learning to play the Messiah accompaniment on the piano.  And once again, I am reveling in the blessing of having the music loop through my mind, reminding me of the Savior and His birth and mission and ultimate triumph.  During Thanksgiving I played the Hallelujah chorus (fluidly, yet still rather badly) for some of my siblings to sing along.  I will probably take the music with me for Christmas to play for my whole family to see if they want to try bashing through it a bit.  Maybe I can make it a family tradition.

One of the Messiah's wonderful features is how it is composed entirely of quoted scripture. This means that I can be reading in the scriptures and run across words that were written into the Messiah and immediately have its sacred music come to mind. Super-awesome.

Another thing I love about it is that in so many instances, the music was written to compliment the message of its text. The music accompaniment that sharply punctuates "Surely he hath borne our griefs" feels as though it is the falling lash or the beating that Christ received in connection with his trial and condemnation. There is the distinct crash and tinkle of broken pottery in "Thou shalt break them," and when when we are told that "Every valley shall be exalted," the music soars up an octave on "exalted."  And let's not forget the way the melody motif wanders and scatters seemingly in all directions when "All we like sheep have gone astray." 

What about you? Do you have a personal connection to Handel’s Messiah?  If you don't, try playing it during this Christmas season and see if it doesn't bring more of the Christmas Spirit into your life.