Ever fresh, ever powerful, it’s that special time of the year for Messiah, Handel’s extraordinary masterpiece.
Yesterday afternoon, Chris and I went to see The Toronto Symphony Orchestra and the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir perform this incredible “feast for the ears.” I find it astounding that this composition has been a tradition for two hundred and fifty years – it’s one of the most performed works of all time. Peter Oundjian,the music director of TSO, says that in 1743, Handel “exploded with this unrestrained and joyous celebration of life.” I wholeheartedly agree – it felt glorious to be a part of it. Part 1 deals with the biblical prophecies of the Saviour and their realization in the incarnation of Christ; Part 2 deals with the events of Christ’s Passion and the ultimate triumph of the Second Coming; and Part 3 comments on Christ’s role as Saviour.
Yesterday’s rendition was two and a half hours long (including a short break) and I have to admit that I started to get fidgety- mostly because the place was packed and the seating didn’t leave much room for shuffling my feet or stretching my back. Chris observed and mentioned that the three young children in front of us did a better job of sitting quietly through the production than I did but I chose not to respond to his wisecrack.
The point it that despite feeling a bit restless with the length of the production, when the Hallelujah Chorus began, I jumped out of my seat and became fully engaged with the audience as the jubilant and heartwarming fusion of voice and instrument swelled through the entire venue. It was a memorable moment.
Of course, as we were driving home, I asked the inevitable question – where did the tradition come from that everyone stands up during the Hallelujah Chorus?
Apparently, on March 23, 1743, the Messiah was performed for the 1st time in London, England. The king of England was so moved by the singing of the Hallelujah Chorus that he spontaneously stood to his feet and remained standing until the end of Handel’s masterpiece. According to Yahoo, when the king stands up, everybody stands up. Ever since that day, it has been customary for the audience to stand whenever the Hallelujah Chorus is sung.
Yesterday afternoon, as the Hallelujah Chorus was song, every single person in Roy Thomson Hall stood up. I checked it out – not one person remained seated. I’m sure there were Muslims and Jews, Christians and Catholics, Hindus and Buddhists and Mormons,Doukhobors, orthodox followers and native spiritual traditionalists, Wiccans, Rastafarianists and Quakers, Mennonites and Jehovah Witnesses, atheists and agnostics in that audience – yet everyone respected the lyrics of the song.
I find that fascinating because the libretto, (the text) of Messiah is completely scriptural.When else can you find people of so many differing beliefs standing up for and respecting what the Bible says?
It may very well be explained away by mere respect for tradition but for that short time, there was a profound experience of unity, celebration and power…like everything in this world was OK. In this day and age, when people take every opportunity to express their objection to and rejection of Jesus, there was a rare moment of peace.
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9.6