Just for the record, I’m still on vacation until January 2nd. But, I have had a couple memories surface over the last few Christmas days that I wanted to share with you before the season ends.
I mentioned in a previous post that I have sung in or conducted Handel’s Messiah for nineteen years. During that time I have come to believe that Jesus Christ actually loves that music, especially when the singers are worshiping him and praising the Father. I have seen so many miracles that the idea that they will occur is actually stronger than faith – bordering knowledge fueled by long experience.
About five years ago we did not have a strong soprano soloist. There were quite a few talented voices willing to do these parts, but I always like to have one or two superb soloists. We always pray and ask for guidance in every part of the long preparations for each year’s performance. We published the audition schedule and had a thought to take one of the posters into Anchorage to hang in a specific music store. We had never done that before, because we have always had more fine soloists try out than could possibly perform.
On the night of the auditions a young woman walked into the room. She introduced herself as Catherine, and said she had been a lead soloist with the New York Metropolitan Opera. Her voice was absolutely flawless. I walked up close to her so that only she and I could hear my comments. I suggested that she sing the message of Christ rather than using the music to showcase her voice. She nodded, and what came out of her mouth still gives me chills as I write this. She obviously loved her Savior, and it came through gloriously. She turned off the broad vibrato and operatic style, and just sang for her love of Christ, and it was beyond compare.
This was a small miracle, and might seem more random than miraculous without understanding two things, first is that we were in Wasilla Alaska, which is real close to the end of civilization, and the last place one might expect to find glorious musical talent and superb performances of Handel’s Messiah. Even having lived there for over 30 years, I wouldn’t have expected it, but it happened year after year.
One year prior to this we had a nice Tenor section showing up to practices, but a few days before the performance, all of them called and said they might not be able to perform due to some complication. We met to warm up on the night of the performance – and there were NO tenors. I tried to feel panicked, but the Spirit kept calming me. Others in the chorus asked me what we were going to do about no tenors, because Handel’s Messiah really can’t be performed without tenors. There would be long blank spaces where nobody was singing. It would sound silly.
We took our places on the stage and as the orchestra was warming up, a man walked up to me. He said he had just returned from a mission, and he was familiar with the Messiah, could he sing with us. I asked if he was a tenor. He nodded. I found out later that he is a fantastic tenor, honestly nearly as good as Josh Grobin. As he was walking to the stage, he turned back and asked me if his brother could sing tenor also. His brother was also a very strong tenor. Seconds later, a man with a beard approached. He introduced himself. I knew the name well because I had asked him to sing with us several times, but had never met him. I knew he was fantastic. I welcomed him to the stage with a sense of gratitude and relief. Several minutes from the start of the program a complete stranger walked up to me. He introduced himself as a tenor from Anchorage. He said he had come and listened to our performance several years, and had decided to sing with us because we understood the meaning of the music, and sang with love and Spirit. He was a minister or elder in his congregation in Anchorage and a fine tenor.
In a matter of ten minutes I had six tenors, which is enough, especially when they are that strong.
I have never participated in a performance of Handel’s Messiah when miracles did not happen.
A few years ago we had the opportunity to sing selections from The Messiah at a community nativity display. I asked the group weeks in advance, and most of the chorus and orchestra volunteered to do the additional performance. We reminded them often of the commitment.
On the night of the nativity performance, we met to warm up, and had almost all of the orchestra and chorus, but again – no tenors. I don’t know why tenors are so problematic for me, but I’m always chasing tenors begging like a hungry child.
We warmed up without tenors, and everyone asked what we would do. I said, “I’m not sure. I guess the angels will have to sing tenor.” Everyone laughed kind of nervously, but they had actually experienced angels singing with us. We had a prayer and walked into the hall. As we were walking one of the trumpet players said he could sing tenor. Which did I need most, trumpet or a tenor. I told him to leave his horn in the warm up room. A sister walked beside me and said she loved the tenor part. I told her to give it a try. Still, that only made two sort-of tenors.
Something happened that night I have never done before. This was a performance for members of the community. I felt the Spirit, and after the overture I turned around and faced the audience. I introduced the next selection and told them its significance in Christ’s life. I saw people’s faces light up as they understood the message of Handel’s Messiah for the first time. Because I was acting under inspiration, the audience felt it too, as did the choir and orchestra. When I turned around to face the performers I could almost see the heavens opening behind them as angels joined us.
We began the performance with “For Unto Us a Child is Born”. And when the tenor part came due, I heard a strong, beautiful tenor section. I looked up, and there were only two people singing tenor. Yet, there was this huge tenor sound. I saw other people looking around for the source of so much music. There were only two people singing tenor every time, a trumpeter and an alto. Through every song that evening we heard the angels singing tenor. It was splendid.
This and dozens of other happenings are why I say, I have never participated in a performance of Handle’s Messiah when there were not miracles.