Only 5 singing days left until Christmas

This is non-scientific post.   The Messiah is one of the glories of Western civilization.  It’s a shame that it only gets performed this time of year.  Last night we went to a community Messiah sing in a large beautiful old church.  Lots of the people I play with were in the orchestra.  Large numbers of the audience clearly knew how to sing.  There was a professional conductor and 4 soloists.  Before starting out he informed the assembled multitudes that this was not going to be the definitive performance, and we might have to stop if we got lost (which happened once).

We’d been to similar Messiah sings in a friend’s home with may be 15 singers in years past. It was great being in the midst of the voices, but it was nothing like last night.  We didn’t sing, but sat with the 40 or so Sopranos.  To our left were the about same number of altos, and in one of the naves were the tenors (to our right), opposite them in the other nave were the basses.  The church had a very fine organ and the orchestra had about 20 players.  They used the Mozart orchestration of the Messiah which had wind instruments that didn’t exist when Handel was writing.

I write this to urge you to go to a Messiah sing in your area, if  one’s available.  It is a fabulous experience to sit in the middle of all the voices and hear the counterpoint build up around you, as one set of voices after another takes up a phrase.  40 altos bringing in a phrase is something else.  You are  totally immersed in the glorious sound which is all around you.  It is a far more intense experience than sitting in an audience and having the choir and orchestra come at you in one direction.  It’s probably better if you can sing, but you don’t need to.  On an intellectual level, it’s far easier to understand the counterpoint when each voice is coming at you from a different direction.  The neurologist in me has to tell you that your ability to do this depends on discriminating differences in sound arrival times in your two ears at the microSecond level.

As a chamber musician, I get this something like this playing with friends, but a Messiah sing is a completely different order of magnitude.  My string playing friends tell me that this is why they play in orchestras, suffering the egos of conductors, the rehearsals, the shlepping of their instruments, etc. etc.  — the experience of the music is quite different when it’s all around you.

When we were raising our kids in Montana, they heard the Messiah at home a lot.  When we’d  drive past sheep in the field, they’d start singing “O We Like Sheep”, because that’s what they thought it meant, and they liked sheep.

Merry Christmas to all

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