Audiences sing “hallelujah” to Utah Symphony’s “Messiah” – literally

Last weekend ushered in the holiday season in Salt Lake City. The opening of major ski resorts, Black Friday shopping and other events sparked that magical winter feeling. On Saturday evening I attended a time-honored Christmas tradition, George Frideric Handel’s “Messiah” Sing-In at Abravanel Hall. The audience was invited to sing and participate during the chorus parts of the oratorio.

It was an impressive performance from the Utah Symphony and the Utah Symphony Chorus and four outstanding soloists. Saturday’s performance was also special because scattered throughout the audience were members of the internationally acclaimed Mormon Tabernacle Choir, who were strategically placed to help novice singers maneuver through the often complicated chorus. The chorus consists of the four vocal parts that weave in and out, harmonizing with each other to produce a performance worthy of Carnegie Hall. The chorus pieces were thus sung by a mishmash of some of the best voices in music and some like my own. Needless to say, the world-class voices drowned the rest out.

Handel wrote “Messiah” in 1741 in a total of 24 days. The Libretto is more than 250 pages long, and some say it took a bout of divine intervention to help him create this masterpiece in so short a time. Through many performances and revisions over the next several years, “Messiah” became one of the most acclaimed religious works in the world and remains so to this day.

I thought “Messiah” was a blast. Not only was the music great and diverse, but I got to attempt to sing along as well. I won’t lie and say the singing was easy, but it was entertaining. Participating brings a sense of ownership and made the whole performance even more meaningful.

Some of my favorite selections were the famed “Hallelujah Chorus” and “I Know That my Redeemer Liveth.” The acoustics and setting made the music something to remember. The four tiers, gold leafing and crystal chandeliers provided an unbeatable atmosphere.

I asked Debbie Smith of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir what she thought of singing with a roomful of amateurs, and she said, “I was really impressed with the voices all around me. I was listening for the whole sound and that was very, very awesome. I enjoyed it a lot.”

Of the “Messiah,” she said, “I love the “Messiah.” We just recorded as a choir the whole “Messiah” and there is just a spirit about it, which you don’t find in any other music. I love it!”

Upcoming “Messiah” Sing-Ins will be held throughout the month. Murray High will host one Dec. 6. Libby Gardner Hall at the U will also play host to an orchestra on Dec. 20, showcasing a number of pieces, including the “Messiah” choruses.

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