Singing Handel Slightly Off-Key

We spent the evening yesterday at Disney Hall, singing the Messiah with two thousand other people in the annual “Messiah Sing-Along.”

It was truly wonderful, as in full-of-wonder, and I can’t completely explain why except to point to the power of mass ritual and of music.

And when we joined those two things together – singing in one slightly off pitch voice – it was a concrete reminder to me that none of us are alone, that we are part of a bigger thing which is shared with other people.

And if you wonder why it is that I feel that we all owe for what we’ve received from it, think for a moment about the message of the holiday, and of the choir.

We’re none of us alone, and we are a part of something bigger, to which we have obligation as we can and should expect it to have debt to us. We exchange gifts – give and are given to. We make concrete gestures to the other people in our lives, as they make them toward each of us.

As noted, I’m not a deeply religious or spiritual man; I just try and lead a good life in my own way. But I am moved by things that remind me that I am a part of something bigger which has given me a lot. And when I look for direction in my own life, I look toward paying off that debt that I owe and leaving more behind than I was given.

That and annoying my children, breaking speed laws, and the occasional other grin-inducing activity.

6 thoughts on “Singing Handel Slightly Off-Key”

  1. Marc,
    I’m still at a loss as to how and why the Resurrecttion piece, Messiah, has become a birthing celebatory classic?
    While, Bach’s supreme work regarding the birth of Christ, Christmas Oratorio, is pretty much ignored.
    I’ve asked this around the blog portion of the net for some time now, and, not only have I not received an adequate answer, I’ve received no answer at all.
    BTW, I have both in superb renditions and always listen to Bach first thing Christmas morning.

  2. Mike, there’s a reason why pieces like Messiah are known as “warhorses”. Choirs and orchestras can reliably perform it at the holidays and bring in huge audiences. I’m willing to bet that Marc and his family had to pay to join his 2000 friends for the privilege of singing-along.

    As to why Messiah is a warhorse, I certainly don’t think it’s due to any intrinsic artistic merit that Bach’s Christmas Oratorio (or other works) do not possess. It’s just monopolised the available mindshare for classical christmas music. Virtually everyone who’s ever sung in a choir has sung choruses from it. Any vocal soloist of any ability level has probably done an aria or two from it. Anyone who goes to church during Advent has heard excerpts from it.

    For good or ill, we’re probably stuck with Messiah “forever and ever”. But take a look at some of the choirs in your area! I’m sure that there are some performing much more interesting selections from the vast classical Christmas/Advent repertoire.

  3. I love the Oratorio (I have a copy, have to go see which one), but to be honest the Messiah is more a visceral “pop” piece that is easier for people to connect to. If it wasn’t for the Hallejuah Chorus, I don’t think it would be.

    But it is…


  4. 1) “For unto us a child is born” is, to a non-musician and flaming agnostic like me, as good as it gets.

    2) The annoying the kids bit works for me too; I also now understand my father a little better.

    3) Happy Holidays, and may next year be better. Thanks for the blog.

  5. Marc: I too have enjoyed the Messiah Sing-a-longs for many years, though none more so than when maestro Robert Shaw led the Atlanta symphony and the ASO’s truly awe-inspiring chorus.

    Thank you for a delightful post, and Merry Christmas and Happy Holiday season to you and your family.

    Bat One

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