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Thou tellest

Hallelujah for Handel

Photo courtesy Student Orchestras of Great Olympia

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"Comfort ye, my people,' saith your God." And with that, one of humanity's crowning achievements in inspirational music gets underway. Who among us doesn't appreciate comfort as we approach the winter solstice? Maybe that's why Messiah, first written for Easter and performed in April, is so inseparably associated with Christmas. For many of us, even here in the relatively unchurched Pacific Northwest, it wouldn't be Christmas without rising to enjoy the ever-popular "Hallelujah Chorus." It's been said King George II was the first to stand for the Lord God omnipotent reigning-eth, at Messiah's London premiere, but there's no evidence he was even at the show. We know audience members leapt to their feet by 1750, but for all Messiah's major choruses, not just "Hallelujah." Conductor Robert Shaw claimed it was George II who stood first, but only on his way to the loo for a pre-intermission pee break. In any case, it's a rousing habit that offers a welcome moment of exercise.

Like many oratorios (lengthy musical compositions for choir, orchestra and solo vocalists), George Handel's 1741 masterpiece uses a technique called text painting, in which the score reinforces individual lyrics. That's why the line "Ev'ry valley shall be exalted," for example, sounds so - what's the word? - exalted. In the world of film scores, it's called "Mickey Mousing," the Disney-cartoon-like technique of using actions and emotions in the text to inspire the music, note by note. Its text, compiled by art patron Charles Jennens, is a series of extended quotes from the psalmist, Isaiah and other Old Testament prophets, the second chapter of Luke, the 15th chapter of 1 Corinthians and the Anglican Book of Common Prayer (1662). Its narrative structure reflects the liturgical year from the Advent to the End of Days, and it uses these verses to meditate on Jesus and his relationship with the tribes of Israel.

Now it's your turn to tackle the punishing melismas of "For Unto Us a Child Is Born." Lend your lungs to Student Orchestras of Greater Olympia's Messiah Sing-Along at The Washington Center for the Performing Arts, Dec. 19, sponsored by R. L. Ray Violin Shop. "O thou that tellest good tidings of Zion" indeed! Soloists for the Washington Center performance are soprano Denise Daverso, mezzo soprano Brianna Kramer and tenor Nathan Rødahl. If you don't feel like singing, grab a seat in the upper floors, close your eyes and relax into two of the most uplifting hours of music ever written.

A few nights prior to that, churches in Gig Harbor and Tacoma offer non-participatory renditions, both listed below and selling tickets through Broadway Center for the Performing Arts.

MESSIAH, 7:30 p.m., Thursday, Dec. 15, Chapel Hill Presbyterian, 7700 Skansie Ave., Gig Harbor, $30-$48, 253.591.2013

MESSIAH, 7:30 p.m., Friday, Dec. 16, St. Charles Borromeo, 7112 S. 12th St. SE, Tacoma, $30-$48, 253.591.2013

MESSIAH SING-ALONG, 7 p.m., Monday, Dec. 19, Washington Center for the Performing Arts, 512 Washington St. SE, Olympia, free, 360.753.8585

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