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WASO seeks chorus members for Handel’s ‘Messiah’

The Worthington Area Symphony Orchestra is preparing for this year’s fall concert. Submitted Photo

WORTHINGTON — It’s been seven years since Handel’s “Messiah” has been performed in Worthington, and for the members of the Worthington Area Symphony Orchestra (WASO) leadership team, that’s long enough. 

That event was the catalyst for a whole new era in the musical history of Worthington and the surrounding communities.

“That’s how the leadership team met, through that performance. We came together as a string quartet, and the community orchestra was formed from there,” explained Melanie Loy, WASO project director. “So it’s exciting for us to present Handel’s ‘Messiah’ now, seven years later.”

This season will mark the fifth anniversary for WASO and the second in which they’ve timed a Christmas-themed concert to take place at the very start of the holiday celebrations.

“In the first three years, we did our fall concert in December,” said Beth Habicht, WASO music librarian, “but so many members are public school teachers, and December is an extremely full month for them. Now we have it the Tuesday of Thanksgiving week to usher in the holidays.”

“We’ll be doing just the Christmas portion of ‘The Messiah,’” Sue Simonson, WASO treasurer pointed out, “as well as the Hallelujah Chorus. That will be the first half of our concert. The second half will be audience favorites, such as portions of ‘The Nutcracker’ and various arrangements of Christmas carols with the audience singing along.”

The opportunity to sing along with the full symphony orchestra is not limited to a few carols this year, however. For the second time in its history, the orchestra will accompany a community choir.

“We are seeking chorus members from the community,” Loy explained. “You don’t need lots of singing experience, but church choirs, college choirs, even high school choir singers are encouraged to join.”

Habicht elaborated, “Someone with no singing experience may be overwhelmed by the complexity of the music, so experienced singers are encouraged. We are hoping for 50 to 55 chorus members.”

Kerry Johnson and Jon loy, music teachers at Worthington High School, will lead the chorus rehearsals.

Eric Parrish, music instructor at Minnesota West, has also been involved in the planning process and will take on the solo baritone role in the performance along with Emily Lodine, who is confirmed as mezzo soprano soloist.

Parrish is looking forward to the event.

“I think that the Worthington Area Symphony Orchestra has done a great job of creating a community activity, and this is a great opportunity to expand that beyond the orchestra to choral singers.”

“Traditionally, the ‘Messiah’ is treated as a community participatory event,” Parrish continued. “Often it was performed with 700 people in the chorus. So it’s not just about Christmas, it’s about community.”

Melanie Loy is excited about the community aspect of the event and for the chance to get more people involved in the WASO performance.

“We really want to get people involved and make it a fun experience for everyone. Not everyone is an instrumentalist, and this is an opportunity for them to be a part of a performance. From a historical standpoint, this is a major work — a master work — so for performers to have this in their repertoire is exciting, and it’s exciting for the audience to hear it, too.”

Since the Worthington Area Symphony Orchestra draws from the entire region — some members driving for an hour or more just to get to rehearsal — the Leadership Team is hoping this will result in the chorus also including people from the greater Worthington area.

“We hope to get people from the symphony member’s hometowns involved,” said Habicht. “That would be great.”

Composed in 1741 by George Frederick Handel, “The Messiah” is an English language oratorio, which means it is a sacred vocal work made to be accompanied by an orchestra.

“It is a concert piece,” Habicht emphasized. “No costumes or staging. Handel said that he felt he was divinely inspired when he wrote it. It took him just 21 or 22 days to write, and he barely ate or slept that entire time. When it was performed in London for the first time and King George III heard it, he was so moved that he stood up for the Hallelujah Chorus and people have stood up for it ever since.”

Dr. Christopher Stanichar, conductor of WASO, also emphasized the importance of the work.

“‘The Messiah’ is one of the great works for choir, and it’s also a holiday tradition, and so we thought it would be a great thing to include in our concert this year.”

Rehearsals for the concert will begin Sept. 18th, and will continue on every Thursday (excluding Oct. 16) through Nov, 20th. A dress rehearsal is scheduled for Nov. 24th, with the performance on Nov. 25th at the Memorial Auditorium Performing Arts Center. Chorus rehearsals will take place from 7 to 9 p.m. in the Fine Arts Building at Minnesota West. Organizers of the event would appreciate as many commitments from chorus members as possible by Sept. 16th. Interested singers in the area (aged high school and older) may contact Melanie Loy (360-5866) or Beth Habicht (376-4572) with questions or to sign up.