Handel’s Messiah provides Christmas celebration


After four days of stressful exams, the entire upper school ends the first semester on Friday December 19th with George Frideric Handel’s Messiah, performed by the upper school’s chorus and orchestra.  The performance celebrates the Christmas season as well as marks the accomplishments of the upper school by closing the semester with a roar.

“To me, Messiah is the greatest time of the year,” said senior Mary Katherine Henry. “It’s the time of year where everybody in the choir seems to truly appreciate classical music for its beauty. It represents the beginning of Christmas and the end of another difficult semester.”

The upper school’s chorus and orchestra work from October until right before the performance in December to practice and perfect the difficult, but extraordinary, music Handel composed for Messiah.  Fred Scott, choral director and former director of the Atlanta Opera, works with both the chorus and the orchestra to tackle the difficult music and ultimately conducts Messiah for its two performances on Friday.

“My favorite parts [of Messiah] are the ones that start on page one and go to the last page,” said Scott. “I think Messiah is such a great work of art and I have been in love with Messiah since I was in high school myself.  I love the musicality of Messiah, how Handel tells the story of the birth of Jesus with the narrations, the single angel saying ‘Fear not’, the trumpet and the drums of ‘Glory to God’, and just the exuberance of the piece.  The dramatic theological musical presentation [of Messiah] intrigues my brain and feeds my soul.

While Westminster annually performs Messiah as their conclusion to the Christmas season before winter break, Handel’s Messiah was originally written and composed during the season of Lent in 1741.  The entire oratorio, a musical piece similar to an opera but is not staged, includes the birth of Jesus to His ascension into Heaven in three parts.  Westminster performs pieces of the entire work which best reflect the Christmas spirit and the birth of Jesus.  The combined choirs of the ninth through twelve graders all perform together the songs, “And the Glory of the Lord”, “And He Shall Purify”, “For Unto Us a Child is Born”, “Glory to God”, and the famous “Hallelujah” chorus.  Along with these combined choir performances there are also solos of recitatives or arias many seniors, juniors, and sophomores will be performing from Messiah.

“[Messiah] was originally written for Lent but there are two more parts of the piece: the crucifixion and the resurrection,” said assistant choral director Michael Dauterman. “It’s such an exciting narrative because there are so many changes in mood, like mood swing I guess could say.  It goes from fast to slow to beautiful and lush to really quick and exciting.  I think there’s a sparkle about it that not many other Christmas pieces even capture and I think that’s why it is so exciting and applicable to Christmas.”

Even though Messiah is an incredibly difficult piece musically, students from both the choirs and the orchestra practice tirelessly to accomplish a crowd-pleasing performance.

“It’s really neat to see most of the eleven-twelve chorus, who have sung Messiah before, just pick it up and sing it again,” said Dauterman. “Not many other high schools can do that.”

For many students around campus Messiah marks the period where they can finally stop worrying about exams and start celebrating Christmas.

“So much effort goes into learning and mastering the material and singing for a crowd makes all the hard work seem worth it,” said Henry. “I believe Westminster continues to perform Messiah to create a tradition around Christmas time, because Christmas is all about being around family and friends to celebrate being together.”

An extremely special part of Messiah for the Westminster community is how on the evening performance on Friday all alumni who had participated in Messiah during their high school years are invited to come back and sing or play in Messiah again.  Seeing alumni of students from a few years ago or even parents who were involved in Messiah when they were high school, proves to be a very exciting and rewarding experience for the students and faculty who participate in or come to see that evening performance of Messiah.

“I love how all the alumni come back and sing; it’s really fun to see them after you haven’t seen them in a while,” said junior Anna Lemaster. “They have a lot of fun coming back, reliving their high school days, and singing in it, that’s what makes it really fun.”

The alumni from years past also loving coming back and singing in Messiah; their participation contributes to this long-standing tradition.

“I’m nostalgic and it reminds me of high school,” said alumna Pam Kuester. “Some of my happiest memories were in chorus and it’s fun to sing in the choir again.”

The final performance of Messiah on Friday evening has drawn enormous crowds in years past of proud parents, supportive friends, and even nostalgic alumni.  The community that gathers to hear Messiah help to create the joy the Christmas season is all about.

“[Messiah] has come to be something that is far bigger than any of us that are here now because it goes back so many decades, said Scott. “I think one of the several things that make it special is that it does create a really big performing arts community, you have the choir who has sung it all fall long and you’ve got the orchestra that has been working on it, but you also have the students who used to be in choir, the alums that come back, the faculty that come, and the parents that come.  It creates an incredibly big musical community and seeing as we try to think of ways in which we can create a ‘beloved community’, this to me is such tangible evidence of the beloved musical community that continues to come back year after year.”