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George Frideric Handel's "Messiah" has become somewhat of an Advent tradition in Juneau, and all over the world. But interestingly, during the German-born Handel's lifetime (1685-1759), it was never performed during the Christmas season. It was usually reserved for spring, often near Easter.
"The origins of the piece had nothing to do with Christmas and nothing to do with Easter," said J. Allan MacKinnon, conductor of Sunday's "Sing-it-Yourself Messiah," 3 p.m. at Northern Light United Church.
"Handel had this friend, Charles Jennings, who collected a bunch of writings from the scriptures, and he organized them in such a way that Handel got the idea that this would be a cool thing to do."
One of the most popular baroque composers, Handel wrote "Messiah" in 24 days in the summer of 1741. The complete 212 hour version is broken into three parts: Christ's birth, death and triumphant resurrection. Jennings based the libretto on passages from the King James Bible.
Sunday's performance will include 90 minutes of "Messiah." The afternoon is sponsored by the Juneau Lyric Opera and the Juneau Oratorio Choir.
juneau lyric opera and the juneau oratorio choir
when: 3 p.m. sunday, dec. 11
where: northern light united church
People who would like to sing along should show up at 1:30 p.m. to rehearse with the orchestra. Scores will be available at the door, and for purchase. The overture will begin at 3 p.m.
A group of about 25 to 30 singers rehearsed on four Sundays in November. The performance will feature eight soloists, the same number that Handel used when "Messiah" premiered April 13, 1742, in Dublin. The eight, all from Juneau, are: Jay Query, Philippe Damerval, Lisa Ray, Janet Sanbei, Kathleen Wayne, Lisa Corrigan, Brett Crawford and Cheryl Crawford.
The orchestra comprises members from the Juneau Symphony, the Juneau Student Symphony, the Amalga Chamber Orchestra and the Juneau-Douglas High School orchestra.
"The Sing-it-Yourself allows folks to come and have a really good time and enjoy the music," MacKinnon said. "There are a lot of bright, lyrical things. It's not heavy, dark, lugubrious. It's light music, but enough of the text is very serious. Some of the movements that we selected we left in just for the fact of what's going on in our world today."
It is believed that the late Jane Stewart, a Juneau music instructor for more than 40 years, led the town's first performance of "Messiah" on Dec. 18, 1949, MacKinnon said. Stewart called her group the Juneau Community Chorus, a name that was later changed to the Juneau Singers. The chorus performed "Messiah" again in April 1950.
The Juneau Oratorio Choir, formed by MacKinnon in the mid-1970s, performed the full "Messiah" in January 1979 and again in 1982. MacKinnon and the late Mel Flood, former conductor of the Juneau Symphony, assembled a Sing-it-Yourself Messiah in 1986 and presented it six times in the late 1980s and early 1990s.