Community lifts voices in First Presbyterian “Messiah” sing-along

First Presbyterian Churh will host a Messiah sing-along Dec. 10. Details below.


BG Independent News

The season’s first snowstorm couldn’t stop music lovers from gathering Sunday to sing-along to holiday music for the ages.

A sing-along performance of G. F. Handel’s “Messiah” drew a few dozen to the First Presbyterian Church to listen and sing-along on the choruses.

They were joined by the church’s chancel choir, soloists, organ and an 11-piece orchestra.

Inside they all found the warmth of the festive atmosphere, and beloved strains of music.

As musicologist Christopher Williams, who was singing in the choir, noted in his introductory remarks, “Messiah” is associated with both the Christmas and Easter season. That means its strains, especially the climatic “Hallelujah” chorus, are familiar both to listeners and to singers.

The sing-along is intended to bring those two groups together in a spirit of harmony and in literal harmony.

The Rev. Gary Saunders, the church’s co-pastor, said that the event fit well into the church’s belief in fostering community and creativity.

Josh Wang, the church’s choir director, credited co-pastor Mary Jane Saunders with first suggesting the church stage the performance. She had attended such performances in the past and felt it would work in Bowling Green.

Wang, in his first year in his position, was already contemplating a program for the Christmas season, and this fit the bill. “It’s so popular, really beloved music,” he said. So many people have sung it and having them sing the choruses “makes it a more meaningful experience for everyone.”

Also, the sing-along makes the event more casual than the usual concert presentation. Not that the soloists, choir and orchestra were casual about preparation.

“It was wonderful to be part of something this big,” said Nancy Hess, a member of choir. She enjoyed the challenge of preparing the music.

“Obviously we strive for accuracy, and as good a performance as we can,” Wang said.

The performance included almost all of the oratorio’s first section, and “The Trumpet Will Sound” and the “Hallelujah” chorus from the final section.

Among the soloists was professional singer Diane McEwen-Martin, whose families has long ties to the church. “I was baptized here.”

She sang the mezzo-soprano solos. She has performed “Messiah” before, but not all that many times.

She explained that she started her career as a mezzo-soprano before shifting up the vocal register to soprano. Her voice, she said is not suited to the high florid soprano lines in “Messiah,” but people forgot she still had a lower register, so she didn’t get that many opportunities to perform the oratorio.

McEwen-Martin was happy to be back singing the familiar mezzo-soprano solos, as well as “But Who May Abide the Day of His Coming,” an aria for bass that is frequently sung by a mezzo.

This was her first opportunity to sing the solo, McEwen said.

The other soloists – Rachel Cammarn, Joseph Amstutz, and Otis Jeffries—are choral scholars from Bowling Green State University. The orchestra was also made up of students.

Nina Komosinski played trumpet along with Ed Gunther. Both were familiar with the music – some of the parts, especially those on “The Trumpet Shall Sound”—are orchestral excerpts that all classical trumpeters are expected to know.

But playing in an orchestra with a chorus was a joy.

McEwen-Martin said it was a treat to see people in the pews singing on the choruses.

The weather, several people agreed, certainly deterred some from attending.

That makes Wang even more determined to present “Messiah” again next season. Maybe with better luck with weather more to people will be able to join in the grand “Hallelujah.”