My first encounter with the music of Handel’s “Messiah” was the Easter portion performed by a community group of missionary parents in the Spring at Woodstock School some time during the late 1940's. Dr. Leonard Blickenstaff was either the director or one of the prime promoters. I was perhaps 13 or 14 years old at the time and struggling to learn the violin.
When we returned from India to America my father took us to Messiah rehearsals at Bridgewater College. Prof. Nelson T. Huffman was the conductor and sang the lead tenor arias. This was the Christmas portion and was performed in the Bridgewater Church of the Brethren and then there was usually a run out to a church in Luray. I was about 16-18 years old during those years and had been a member of the violin section of the Roanoke Symphony for two years.
During my early years as strings instructor at Patrick Henry HS during the late 1960's we performed the Christmas section with the school choir several years. One year we had a Miss Virginia to solo the soprano arias. David Burgess, our band director conducted.
Several times the Roanoke Symphony performed “Messiah” under different conductors.
One of the most moving performances was a summer one at Woodstock, Virginia with the Summer Institute Orchestra of the American Symphony Orchestra League conducted by
Dr. Richard Lert who was in his eighties at the time. He seemed to know it by heart and honed the orchestra, soloists, and chorus to apparent perfection. During the performance a great thunder storm added to the drama of the music!
This past summer our quartet with added musicians read through the string parts of the Messiah at Christina’s home here in Richmond. This Saturday we will read through it again. Next Saturday I will rehearse with a chorus that will read through, not polish and then perform it on Sunday at the Bon Air Presbyterian Church.
This year on November 10 there was a surprise performance of the Hallelujah chorus by 600 in a New York shopping mall. It has gotten great play on the web. One could see folks wiping their eyes as the powerful words and music proclaimed the good news of our Savior. This was Christmas unabashedly sung. As the camera panned the event one saw the great joy and happiness of the singers and those who apparently were just mouthing the words. All were involved! What a beautiful Christmas gift Handel bequeathed to the world!