Traverse City Record-Eagle

December 7, 2013

'Messiah Sing' ushers in TC holiday season

Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY – David MacDougall considers himself the kind of singer who sounds better singing with a crowd than on his own.

That’s one reason the Traverse City internist has sung in the chorus of every annual Messiah Sing at Central United Methodist Church for the past six years. He thinks George Händel’s 242-year-old Baroque oratorio is one of the German-born composer’s most beautiful creations. He enjoys singing with strong tenors who hit all the right notes.

“When I sit next to them, I sing better than I ever would expect to sing,” MacDougall said. “The ‘Messiah’ truly is for me one of the highlights for the year. To be able to participate in that masterpiece is a beautiful way to start the holiday season.”

Now in its 35th year, Traverse City’s “Messiah Sing” draws about 300 singers and musicians annually into the domed century-old Cass Street church to perform the classic. The audience essentially can opt to become part of the chorus, or just sit and enjoy the concert, said conductor Byron Hanson.

Ann Schoelles, a violinist in the orchestra, likes that and it’s one of the reasons she likes to participate.

“We don’t have a dividing line between audience and performers,” she said. “Everyone is a performer.”

She also enjoys the exuberant Baroque music era (1600-1750), especially Händel’s “Messiah.”

“It rouses your soul, I think,” she said. “And that presents a certain mystery of music, which is ‘Why does it do that?’ “

The performance starts at 4 p.m. Admission is free, but a good-will offering will be taken.

People who want to join the chorus are asked to come at 2:30 p.m. to give them time to get their music before a 2:45 p.m. rehearsal with the orchestra, Hanson said.

The chorus will sing eight songs, including the famous “Hallelujah Chorus” that concludes the oratorio. Soloists are: Lynne Church, soprano; John Bragle, tenor; Sean O’Connor, male alto; and Jeffery Norris, baritone. Organist is Laurence Smith.

Professional musicians include an 18-member orchestra made up mostly of current or former Traverse Symphony Orchestra members; the 50-member Central United Methodist Choir and the Northwestern Michigan College Grand Traverse Chorale, both directed by Jeff Cobb, the church’s music director.

This is Hanson’s 21st year to conduct and he comes with a lot of experience. He began working at Interlochen Center for the Arts in 1965 as conductor of the band and orchestra and is now its archivist.

“I more preside over the performance than conduct, since this isn’t a rehearsed concert prepared in advance,” Hanson said. “I enjoy doing it. It offers people to rub shoulders up to this marvelous piece of music.”

Violinist Carolyn Collins said she marks the years and holiday season with the “Messiah Sing.”

“It’s a tradition I dearly love and feel privileged to be part of it,” she said.

The first Messiah Sing in Traverse City dates back to 1979, when the event was founded by the late Kenneth Jewett and Robert Murphy, both Interlochen music teachers. Central United Methodist choir members Margaret and Phillip Knapp have sung in each performance since then.

“Their enthusiasm rubbed off on us,” Margaret said. “Just to sing the Messiah with a large group of people who fill the sanctuary and come to sing or listen is thrilling. It’s a good start to Christmas.”