One of my favorite portions of Messiah is the musical sequence that uses Luke 2:8-14. In this passage Luke is describing the scene where the angels appear to the shepherds and announce the birth of Jesus. Handel masterfully elevates the suspense with a soloist and strings until the sopranos, altos and tenors burst forth with the words “Glory to God in the Highest!” About 10 years ago I was singing in a Messiah performance, and as the music in this section built I found myself transported, and could not wait to leap up and join the tenors, which I did with unbridled enthusiasm. Unfortunately, in that performance I was singing bass! I don’t think in the grand scheme of things anyone in the audience noticed (though my fellow basses certainly did), but I was temporarily mortified.
But only temporarily. As I reflected I came to the conclusion that a sacred musician getting carried away by sacred music is not such a bad thing. It was just one more testament to the power of both the scriptural record and the ability of music to take us to places we could not otherwise go.
Sunday, December 11, our Chancel Choir will offer the Christmas portions of Messiah. We do this every third year at First Pres, and while there are undoubtedly many seasonal traditions we could live without, I would like to think this is not one of them. There are very few instances I know of in the history of music where scripture is so well-organized and so sensitively brought to life, and done on such a grand scale. Space does not permit me to tell you about all the ways I see this happening throughout the 40 or so minutes of the work we will be offering. I do have a suggestion, hoping you will be present for one of the services: forget you have heard any of the music before. Even forget, if you can, that you have heard the scriptural texts. Listen as if you are hearing it all for the first time. See if you too do not feel transported, perhaps again and again. And, if you should jump up and start singing “Glory to God” with the choir you can be assured we will not take offense!
*Tomorrow, Sunday, December 11, Holt will direct the Chancel Choir and a small orchestra in performance of the Christmas portion of Messiah at the 8:45 and 11:00 Sanctuary services. The choir performs this sacred music every third year.
About the Contributor
Holt Andrews has been First Presbyterian’s Director of Music for 25 years. He is an enthusiastic tenor!