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Every valley, and sing-along, shall be exalted

Not to belabor the holiday music theme, but since I have committed that most cliched and Grinch-like of critical sins by waxing less than enthusiastic about "Messiah" (which is right up there with slamming "The Nutcracker") -- and because the annual wave of "Messiahs" starts to break tonight on DC's shores -- I thought I'd atone by starting a list of Messiah performances in the area. Have I left one out (apart from ones that have already taken place)? Have you seen one you liked? Does anyone sing along, and if so, how long did it take you to master the melismas in "And he shall purify"? Send me links, post your thoughts, highlight your favorite excerpts, and let me know if there's one you think we shouldn't miss.

What struck me as I was compiling this list is how much participation is a part of the "Messiah" tradition. For all our concerns that fewer and fewer people engage with classical music, hordes seem to emerge from the woodwork every year who are able, or at least willing to attempt, to sing Handel from a vocal score. Think what could happen if there were more musical events that invited people to sing, or play, along with beloved pieces of the repertoire. Verdi Requiem? Early Schubert symphonies (perhaps easier to play than some)? Bach cantatas? It seems a shame it should remain limited to "Messiah," if the urge is there.

(The Messiah calendar appears after the jump.)

Messiah in December:
December 4: Edward Polochick leads the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and soloists including Georgia Jarman. Meyerhoff Hall, Baltimore, 7:30 p.m.
December 4, 5, 6: The combined choirs of the Washington National Cathedral perform "Messiah" under Michael McCarthy. Washington National Cathedral. Friday at 7:30 p.m., Saturday and Sunday at 4 p.m.
December 5: DIY, 1: The Metropolitan Chorus presents its annual free sing-along of "Messiah." First Presbyterian Church of Arlington, 5 p.m.
December 6: DIY, 2: St. Peter's Episcopal Church in Arlington offers its annual free "Messiah" sing-along. 7:30 p.m.
December 8: DIY, 3: The Reston Chorale presents a "Messiah" sing-along. 7:30 p.m.
December 9: And yet another: the BSO hosts a sing-along of excerpts from the "Messiah" and its gospel version of the piece. Meyerhoff Hall, Baltimore, 7:30 p.m.
December 10, 11, 12: The BSO completes its "Messiah" trifecta with "Too Hot to Handel: The Gospel Messiah" under Marin Alsop. Thursday Friday at 8 p.m. (Strathmore), Friday Saturday at 8 p.m., Saturday Sunday at 11 a.m. (Meyerhoff Hall).
December 12, 13: The National Philharmonic presents "Messiah" under Stan Engebretson, with Victoria Livengood and other soloists. Strathmore, Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 3 p.m.
December 17, 18, 19, 20: The NSO gets into the act, with the Washington Chorus and soloists including Elsa van den Heever and Eric Owens performing the (in)famous Beecham version: early music, this is not. Kennedy Center Concert Hall, Thursday at 7 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 1 p.m.
December 18: More DIY: the Baltimore Choral Arts Society offers its annual Messiah sing-along. Kraushaar Auditorium, Baltimore, 7:30 p.m.
December 23: Yet more DIY: the Kennedy Center's free annual Messiah sing-along with professional soloists. Kennedy Center Concert Hall, 8 p.m.

Edited to add: The Weekend section of the Washington Post did an even more comprehensive listing of "Messiahs" on Friday. Great minds.

As for shedding new light on "Messiah," check out this bonus CD, which I think is quite wonderful, though some readers will be horrified.

By Anne Midgette  |  December 4, 2009; 6:30 AM ET
Categories:  Washington  
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Next: In Performance: Angela Hewitt's Goldberg Variations


You're right. It seems the only time it is OK for regular people to like classical music is at Christmas time. And especialy vocal music. In the old WGMS days, I loved Christmas time (even though I'm Jewish), because I got to hear classical vocal music on the radio all the time. Now I have an IPod, but there's something special about the shared nature of broadcast music.

In regard to The Messiah, I sing choral music, so I have by almost by memory all of Part I (the Christmas portion), and the Hallelujah Chorus. So I enjoy most hearing and singing the rest of the work, especially the choruses "All We Like Sheep" and the final chorus, "Worthy is the Lamb".

But still....every time I enounter the Part I music and think I'll never enjoy it again....darn your genius, Handel...I feel so have your way with me every time!

Posted by: c-clef | December 4, 2009 11:09 AM | Report abuse

I think the expansion of the sing-along concert tradition is definitely a concept worth exploring further. Personally, I think a sing-along War Requiem is a killer idea. I would be first in line.

As for how long it took me to master those melismas, I would say about 20 minutes. But I was in the throes of marathon rehearsals with John Nelson at the time and terrified of what my regular director might do to me if I embarrassed him.

Posted by: TheIndieHandbook | December 4, 2009 11:38 AM | Report abuse

I would sell my gifts to the Grinch if I could participate in a Faure Requiem sing-a-long. Ditto for Mozart's Requiem, and Haydn's Mass in Time of War. Hmm, interesting death theme...

Posted by: babsy1 | December 4, 2009 2:44 PM | Report abuse

You missed the Columbia Pro Cantare Messiah on December 6, 2009 at 7:30 PM in the Jim Rouse Theater, Wilde Lake, Columbia MD. The chorus and orchestra will be conducted by Frances Motyca Dawson and soloists include Amy van Roekel, Mary Ann McCormick, Charles Reid, and Lester Lynch. The free, pre-concert lecture given by Eileen Soskin begins at 6:30 PM and there will be a post-concert reception. Ticket information is available at

Posted by: judithweintraub | December 5, 2009 10:47 AM | Report abuse

I recall performing in a free open orchestral reading of Beethoven’s Symphony #5 next to the Foucault pendulum in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History (then called the National Museum of History and Technology) in 1969, under conductor (and harpsichordist) James Weaver.

I recall not challenging the review in the Washington Post the next day that the flutist ended the reading two bars later than the rest of the musicians.

(The Washington Post review might have been by Robert Battey's mother.)

Posted by: snaketime1 | December 7, 2009 2:12 PM | Report abuse

I must say, I'm intrigued by the Beecham/Handel (actually Eugene Goosens)performance. Somebody please give us a reason to do another performance of "Messiah". Put some kind of spin on this hairy tradition. How about the Mozart arrangement? In German?

Posted by: buxtehude99hotmailcom | December 7, 2009 3:54 PM | Report abuse

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