Perhaps no piece of Western classical or choral music reminds more people of the holidays than George Frideric Handel’s Messiah. Performed in concert halls, churches, and countless other venues each holiday season, Messiah brings together voice and instrumentation to tell the story of the life of Jesus Christ, from the Nativity to Crucifixion and Resurrection, ultimately ending with the promise of redemption and victory over sin.
“Doing the Messiah in December is extra special. As soon as you hear the first notes of the first section, you think ‘Christmas’," says Asheville Symphony Chorus Conductor Kyle Ritter. “For many people, I think it's the demarcation — the beginning of the holiday.”
What’s the Story Behind Messiah?
Composed over the course of just 24 days in 1741, the oratorio — a large composition for orchestra and voice that often focuses on religious themes and, unlike an opera, eschews the use of costumes and scenery -- Messiah was written by Handel with some lyrical help from his longtime friend, librettist and Anglican minister Charles Jennens.
Written at a time when Italian opera’s popularity was on the wane, Handel made the calculated decision to use English for Messiah in the hopes of appealing to a broader audience. After the piece was first performed for the public to a standing-room only crowd in Dublin in 1742, it was immediately clear that Handel’s gambit had paid off: The performance netted a princely sum of £400 — about £100,000 in today’s sterling.
However, the piece and its performance weren’t just a financial success. Concertgoers and critics alike fell in love with it immediately, leading one member of the press to write that: "Words are wanting to express the exquisite delight it afforded to the admiring and crowded audience".
What’s a Messiah Sing — and How Can You Get Involved?
With a piece as rich in history and as firmly entrenched in the Western holiday tradition as Messiah, it’s easy to see why more than just professional musicians and singers have long looked for opportunities to get involved with a performance of the iconic piece.
Enter the “Messiah Sing,” an informal performance in which the audience, unrehearsed, serves as a chorus in support of an often professional orchestra and chorus. The tradition began among the amateur choral societies of early 19th-century England. Because Messiah was specifically composed to need only a few rehearsals, it was ideal for non-professional choruses. In the 1820s, Handel Festivals across England began featuring performances of the oratorio by amateur choruses in what came to be called “Scratch Messiahs” or “the People’s Messiah”.
“Messiah Sings are a holiday tradition around the world — and they’re a tradition in Asheville,” says Ritter, who will be conducting the ASC Messiah Sing-along for the first time this year. “ASC hosted Messiah Sing-alongs for years, and they were always very popular. Then we had the pandemic and had to pause for several years. So I’m excited to welcome the community back to what was a very beloved event.”
ASC’s Messiah Sing-along will feature members of Asheville Symphony Orchestra and ASC Assistant Conductor Tate Addis on organ. And all community members are welcome, Ritter stresses.
“Whether you’re an experienced singer or new to choral singing, we’d love for you to join us in welcoming the Messiah Sing-along back to Asheville.”
Where and When Does ASC’s Messiah Sing-along Happen?
ASC will host its annual Messiah Sing-along on Tuesday, December 5 at Trinity Episcopal Church at 7:00 p.m. Tickets are $15 for youth and $25 for adults. Use the button below to buy yours now!