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Listening for the Messiah
Where is the grand oratorio, The Messiah? Its strains are missing in music halls this year.


I'm lamenting the absence of the Messiah this Christmas. Not the Christ-child—He is to be found in the crèche on Main Street, on Christmas cards arriving in my mail box and in the nativity sets I've been unpacking with the rest of the season's ornaments.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but no one in the Moncton area is performing Handel's Messiah this Christmas season.

No, I'm lamenting the grand Messiah, the one who comes with the sound of oboe and flute, with angelic voices heralding His arrival, with organ and strings, timpani and trumpets. I'm lamenting that in Moncton, there's no Messiah to cause me—and whoever else happens to be in the room—to spontaneously stand as the Hallelujah Chorus reverberates around us.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but no one in the Moncton area is performing Handel's Messiah this Christmas season. Symphony New Brunswick gave one performance of the famous oratorio this past Wednesday in Saint John. Unlike other years, the orchestra is not touring with the seasonal favourite and I've yet to discover any a choir or church ensemble offering such music to my ears.

It's a pity. Handel's great religious masterpiece is soothing to the soul at this harried, commercially driven time of the year. The music should be mandatory for all of us—children and adults alike—for it causes us to pause and simply listen.

A few years ago, I found myself in the midst of an extremely busy work period when my department was short staffed and there weren't enough hours in the day to accomplish everything my employer wanted let alone shop for presents, bake cookies, write Christmas cards, put up the tree, decorate the house, visit friends, mail parcels, attend school concerts, drop into parties … you get my drift about this harried time of the year. In spite of my frantic schedule, I stopped one night and took myself to the Capitol Theatre where the Messiah was being performed. I remember sitting by myself, surrounded by other concert goers but oblivious to their presence, the music creating a sound barrier that protected me from everything else in life at that moment. I remember leaving the theatre at the end of the performance refreshed, ready to breathe again and to step back into the frenzy of life that is December.

Classical composer George Fredric Handel created the Messiah in 1741. The oratorio's first performance was for charity, the proceeds of the performance helping prisoners in Dublin jails and hospitals. It seems somehow fitting that this grand piece of music which centres on Jesus Christ as Saviour (Messiah) was used for the good of those in need.

Originally performed mostly at Easter, Handel's Messiah grew in popularity after the composer's death and was performed more frequently throughout the year. Forty years after Handel died writer Charles Burney commented that performances of the oratorio had "fed the hungry, clothed the naked, fostered the orphans." The music of the Messiah had in fact rung true to the spirit of the Messiah.

My own recorded version of oratorio, called The Gift of Messiah, was performed as a project of the Mennonite Central Committee in Canada, which used the proceeds from sales of the CD to support community initiatives of the MCC as well as Habitat for Humanity.

Alas, this recorded version is the only Messiah I will be listening to this year. It's not the same experience. Live performances of this wonderful music give central stage to grand tenor, soprano, mezzo-soprano and basso voices. Live performances enrich my spirit the way no recorded version in my living room can.

But one does not always get everything one wants for Christmas. Perhaps next year.

Lynda MacGibbon is a writer based in Riverview New Brunswick and the NB/PEI Director for Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship. This column first appeared in the Moncton Times & Transcript newspaper and on canadaeast.com. She can be reached at lmacgibbon@ivcf.ca.

Originally published in Moncton Times & Transcipt, Moncton, NB, November 27, 2004, and simultaneously on www.canadaeast.com.

 

 
 
 
 

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