by Marilyn Cooper-Lunt, Choir Director/Conductor, Tom Beckett and others, Handel’s “Messiah”
Our 15th annual Tri-community performance of Handel’s “Messiah” is now in rehearsals. Little did I know It would become a wonderful gathering of about 150 people ages 12 to 95, representing many faiths and including vocalists, instrumentalist, pianists and others who help make it a yearly highlight of the Christmas season.
It is a marvelous production by the community for the community. The talents are obvious as they render a very professional performance. I had the opportunity to sing with a community chorus of the “Messiah” in another town, and it was a thrilling experience I never forgot. I also sang with the high school chorus under the direction of Ben Day.
After he left, I felt Casa Grande should have its own performance. I knew I wasn’t the only one who loved the “Messiah”. I researched the phone book (back then) and called church leaders and choir directors. Their responses were wonderful. We have about 14 different churches represented.
Knowing I could not do it alone, I chose other conductors – Tom Beckett and June Graber, with David Hancock on the organ. Jim Sorensen soon came on board as our major pianist. They have all been with me since the beginning, as have many others. About 10 other communities are involved, some not affiliated with any particular church, and many of our Canadian friends work their schedules around the “Messiah.” I did not want to have auditions nor charge a fee for this Christmas event. With the tremendous support of my church leaders (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints), we went all out and have continued each year.
I try to make it fun, even though it is a work of perfection. We joke, laugh and everyone enjoys the camaraderie as one big happy family. We fill the chapel and foyers with dozens of poinsettias which are given to performers afterwards. It is a beautiful setting for the “Messiah.” Prior to the start of the Messiah, we always have 30 minutes of carols with audience participation. It is well-attended and a reminder of the true meaning of Christmas.
Eighteenth century German composer George Frederic Handel wrote his best known and most frequently performed, “Messiah,” in 1741 after a series of setbacks threatened to end his career.
As popularity waned for traditional German and Italian operas in Great Britain in the 1730s, Handel found himself facing mounting debt and stress. In 1737, after pushing himself to compose four operas in 12 months, he suffered a stroke. The incident left his right arm paralyzed and led doctors to proclaim he would never play music again.
In 1871, Handel held what was assumed to be his farewell concert. However, shortly after, Handel found a manuscript left for him by poet and former collaborator Charles Jennens. The libretto quoted liberally from the scriptures, particularly the words of Isaiah, which foretold of the birth of Jesus Christ and described his ministry, crucifixion and resurrection. The words impacted him deeply, and a familiar melody he had previously composed flowed into his mind.
In just 24 days, he composed, “Messiah,” and upon completing his composition, he acknowledged humbly, “God has visited me.”
Adapted from “Handel and the Gift of Messiah” by Elder Spencer J. Condie