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Getting a Handel
photos by Ethan Neff of the Lynden Choral Society at St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Bellingham
One small town
Containing more churches than banks,
A ninety year old choral society
With a Christmas tradition of singing Handel's Messiah,
Sixty-some enthusiastic singers recruited without auditions
Through church bulletin announcements
Farmers, store clerks, machinists, students
Middle schoolers to senior citizens
Gather in an unheated church for six weeks of rehearsal
To perform one man's great gift to sacred music.
Handel, given a libretto, commissioned to compose,
Isolated himself for 24 days, barely ate or slept
Believed himself confronted by all heaven itself
To see the face of God,
And so created overture, symphony, arias, oratorios
Soaring, interwoven themes repeating, resounding
With despair, mourning, anticipation
Renewal, redemption, restoration, triumph.
Delicate appoggiaturas and melismata
Of astounding complexity and intricacy.
A tapestry of sound and sensation unparalleled
To be shouted from the soul, wrung from the heart.
This group of rural people gathers to join voices
Honoring faith foretold, realized, proclaimed.
Ably led by a forgiving director with a sense of humor
And a nimble organist with flying feet and fingers.
The lilting sopranos with angel song,
The altos provide steadfast support,
The tenors echo plaintive prophecy
The base voices full and resonant.
A violinist paints heaven-sent refrain
In parallel duet of counterpoint melody.
The audience sits, eyes closed
As if in oft repeated familiar prayer.
The sanctuary overflows
Glory to God! For unto us a Child is born
And all the people, whether singers or listeners, will be comforted.