TRAVERSE CITY — For the 33rd consecutive year, Central United Methodist Church of Traverse City is ushering in the Christmas season with a community performance of Handel's "Messiah," one of classical music's most cherished masterworks.
The program this Sunday, Dec. 4, is open to anyone interested in joining the chorus to sing iconic selections such as "Hallelujah" and "For Unto Us a Child is Born." No prior experience is required and the lone rehearsal begins at 2:45 p.m., followed by the performance at 4 p.m.
With a cast of professional soloists and an 18-piece chamber orchestra, the Messiah Sing offers a rare opportunity to take part in a complex musical production with only a small investment of time.
For many who take part year after year, it's a spiritually uplifting experience that helps put them in the right frame of mind as the hectic holiday season kicks in.
"People say they feel renewed," said Byron Hanson, who will be conducting the performance for the 19th time. "They feel the spirit of generosity and good cheer. The older I get, the more I treasure meaningful traditions such as this."
The soloists will be soprano Lynne Church, baritone-bass Jeffery Norris and first-time participant John Bragle, a tenor and choral director at Interlochen Center for the Arts.
In a new twist, the all-volunteer chorus will be augmented by two local ensembles: the Northwestern Michigan College Chamber Singers and the Grand Traverse Chorale.
Both are led by Jeff Cobb, who is also music director at Central United Methodist.
The choruses to be performed will include: "And the Glory of the Lord;" "For Unto Us a Child is Born;" "Glory to God;" "His Yoke is Easy, His Burden is Light;" "Surely He Has Borne Our Griefs," "Since by Man Came Death;" "Worthy is the Lamb" and "Hallelujah."
There is no charge to sing with the chorus or watch the performance from the church balcony, but a free-will offering is taken to defray expenses.
The church is located at 222 Cass St.
"Messiah," which George Frideric Handel composed in 1742, was a sensation from the outset and remains wildly popular in the U.S., partly because the English-language text makes the oratorio accessible. It consists entirely of scriptural passages that relate the story of Jesus, from early prophecies to his birth, ministry, crucifixion and resurrection.
The church loans scores to singers who don't have their own. Hanson urges would-be newcomers not to be intimidated.
"An important aspect of the work's greatness is that it's something people can share," he said. "We encourage people to take part even if they've never sung a note of it before.
"There aren't too many master artworks that offer an opportunity like this. You might not be able to perform in a Beethoven symphony or a Shakespeare play, but you can sing in the 'Messiah.' Just come and sit next to someone who knows what they're doing and it can be a wonderful experience."