Sunday, December 6, 2009
And all flesh shall see it together.
A page of George Frederic Handel’s
autograph draft score of Messiah, 1741.
The Granger Collection, New York
In my high-school years as an alto (or second soprano, or tenor, as needed), our a cappella choir (or ockapella, as we liked to say) began learning/practicing Handel's Messiah in early November. We were an earnest group, with an instructor -- Mr. McManus -- who inspired us to hit every note with accuracy and passion. This was our most ambitious project each year -- pity the poor parents with no interest in classical vocal music and multiple vociferous children! (My mother included: I think her love for classical music made an exit sometime around 1975, and there was more to come.) But the group of perhaps sixty of us loved every trilled minute of it. We could be serious and dramatic and show off our honed expertise with long runs of notes and vibrato and barely a chance for a breath. (Not unlike that sentence.) All of us hailed from working-class families (Boeing) and most of us had our religious origins in some form of Christianity. It was the 1970's -- religious music was commonplace in the public schools. We felt important when we sang Messiah. We were important, and we sang like salvation was at hand. Our voices overflowed that school cafeteria as if it were the most prestigious European concert hall, drowning out the monotone of vending machines which lined an entire wall. No ho-hum Carols for us!
As long as Mr. McManus was the vocal instructor, all alumni were invited to return for the Christmas concert, and join the group on the risers. Two of my sisters and I did this several years in a row -- fun! And then somewhere along the line we stopped going, and I don't remember why. Maybe we felt that we had outgrown it. I know I had long outgrown my suburban hometown of Renton. But I miss that December ritual, along with my singing voice, which cut out when my boys were still quite little. (Gone, gone for good.)
Handel would turn over (and over and over) in his grave if he could hear The Hallelujah Chorus muzak-ized all over the planet. (But who knows -- maybe he'd enjoy it.) It's even available as a cell-phone ring tone. Seems to me that, as a society, all we like sheep have gone astray.
Still, it makes for some great listening on a cold Sunday afternoon, cranked up pretty damn loud on the stereo.
God help us.