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Chorus and orchestra prepares for Messiah

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As the holiday season comes in full swing at Westminster, the upper school chorus and chamber orchestra begin preparations for the highly anticipated annual Messiah performance. Following successful “Coffee Concert” and Thanksgiving performances, the two groups have already started practicing for the hour-long ceremony. A staple of Westminster’s performing arts department, Messiah remains a performance that not only celebrates faith, but also the Westminster community.

Messiah has been a staple in Westminster’s holiday season since the early years of the school. Choral director Chris Walters hopes that the traditional aspects of Messiah stay intact as time goes on.

“Messiah goes all the way back to the founding president of our school, Dr. Pressley, and the first choral director at our school, Frank Boggs,” said Walters. “With Messiah at Westminster, there’s this unique moment of being able to express tradition, community, and a great work of art.”

Despite the challenges presented by a complicated show like Messiah, Walters believes that students are up to the task of strengthening the tradition.

“Messiah, especially the Halleluiah chorus, is perhaps the most famous classical piece of music. It’s probably the most performed piece in the world,” said Walters. “Westminster, in my view, is a school that identifies great things in whatever field you may be in. For example, you read great pieces of literature in English, you study the great texts in the Old and New Testament, the importance of mathematicians that have given us the Pythagorean theorem, and especially the greatest pieces of music.”

However, with every great work of art, there is an even greater amount of preparation involved in creating it. For the directors of the show, it’s important that the orchestra and chorus combine in order to produce a coherent performance.

“Both sections, the chorus and orchestra, prepare their music separately and then put them together,” said orchestral director Linda Cherniavsky. “When you put the two together, you need to align them. In other words, they need to be in sync with each other.”

For students in the performing arts, Messiah is seen as one of the most enjoyable shows of the year, due in part to the combination of chorus and orchestra.

“The Messiah concert is one that people in the orchestra look forward to every year,” said senior orchestra player Ellie Panetta. “It’s my favorite part about being in orchestra.”

        Even though students outside of the chorus and orchestra may not be able to appreciate the Messiah performance, performers still love to play it.

“I’ve heard from many students that they don’t find the Messiah to be fun to attend,” said Panetta.  “However, the piece is still fun to play for us because of how fast it is and because we get to work with the chorus.”

Not only do students look forward to performing with the other group, but they also look forward to playing songs that they love.

“One of the best things about Messiah is definitely the rehearsal process, especially since we already know the songs from past years,” said sophomore singer Brooke Stevens. “It’s nice how we don’t have to focus much on learning new Christmas repertoire.”

Senior orchestra player Phoebe Liu is especially fond of this year’s Messiah, as it will be her last one as a student at Westminster.

“We’ve gone through three different conductors over the three years I’ve played Messiah,” said Liu. “I think that, as I freshmen, I was very intimidated because I was playing the entire thing. However, Messiah is a lot of fun and overall, it’s such a joy to play.”

Another important tradition of Messiah is that alumni and faculty are invited to join the chorus and orchestra in a separate performance. This custom emphasizes the idea of unity which the performance is meant to embody.

“There’s actually two performances of Messiah,” said Walters. “There’s one that we do for the upper school student body and then there’s one that happens that evening where all of the Alumni and faculty come back.”

“The tradition of inviting the whole community to come together is very important,” said Cherniovsky. “Because Messiah brings alums back, it’s a way to strengthen our identity as the Westminster community.”

For students, preparing and performing with alumni and Westminster staff members is especially enjoyable.

“Playing with the alums is so much fun,” said Liu. “Even though the evening performances are a lot more technically messy since a lot of the alums haven’t played in a while, there’s a warmth to it that is so special.”

The Messiah tradition holds more value than just a Christmas service: it fortifies the Westminster community by allowing listeners to come together and bond over a universally recognized performance.

“My favorite part of the assembly is definitely coming together as a community and getting to share our progress with students and teachers alike,” said Stevens.

“There were moments in the performances when I would see two different people, faculty and students, that were coming together to sing a great piece of music,” said Walters. “In today’s world, music is often a thing that we consume. I think there’s an aspect of music that’s really important: that it can teach us things. There are certain things in this world that bring us together, and Messiah does that.”

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Chorus and orchestra prepares for Messiah