By Ashley Lodato
If you’re like me, you associate Handel’s ”Messiah” with Christmas, but you’re not quite sure why. Maybe it’s the whole “Messiah” thing that makes you think: Christmas! Clearly, judging by the number of music halls around the United States, Canada and Great Britain that feature a December concert of Handel’s “Messiah,” the large-scale musical piece composed for instruments and vocals is firmly ensconced in the Christmas season. It turns out, however, that “Messiah” was actually composed by George Frideric Handel as an Easter offering, debuting in Dublin in 1742.
For many musicians and vocalists, playing or singing in a public performance of Handel’s “Messiah” is a bucket list kind of experience. Methow Valley violinist Keeley Brooks is too young to have a bucket list (at her age — 15 — I think we still call those kinds of experiences “life goals”), but playing the piece with an orchestra and choir has long held an irresistible appeal for her.
Keeley’s wish was granted (by virtue of her own hard work and talent) last weekend, when she played Handel’s “Messiah” with a group of musicians in Wenatchee. The concert was organized by Serve Wenatchee Valley, which is a social service agency. The Wenatchee Valley Symphony Orchestra provided musicians on flute, viola, cello and violin, including Keeley, and the Wenatchee Columbia Chorale provided 10 soloists.
Keeley’s invitation to perform came from her Wenatchee-based violin teacher, Michelle Vaughn. Vaughn challenged Keeley to sight-read the music, and Keeley rose to the challenge. “I looked it over beforehand to make sure I would understand the really tricky parts,” Keeley says, “but I pretty much sight-read on the night of the concert. You get a very ‘exposed’ feeling because everyone is supporting the melody all together. Mistakes are noticeable.” Still, says Keeley, “it went better than I expected,” adding “It was the longest I’d ever played continuously.”
Complementing the 10 Chorale soloists were — get this — 400 members of the public singing along.
“It was a fundraiser for Serve Wenatchee Valley,” Keeley says, “and the way they raised the funds was that audience members paid to get the score and then to sing along.” Some 400 of the estimated 600 audience members ponied up for the cause and presumably relished their experience singing Handel’s Messiah.
This vast audience mirrors the size of that at the 1742 debut, when apparently more than 700 people showed up to Musick Hall in Dublin to listen to the concert. The concert hall was only able to seat that many because the ladies had agreed to attend sans hoop skirts, which probably doubled the capacity of the venue. Keeley reports that at last week’s concert, held in Eastmont Baptist Church, ladies heeded the same call, and all who wanted to attend were able.
And that, for me, is how Handel’s “Messiah” is associated with the Christmas spirit: the idea that if we all take up just a little less space, there is room for everyone who wants to be included.