'Messiah' Upholds Tradition of Excellence
The combined choirs and orchestra of Asbury University closed out this year’s performance of Handel’s Messiah with a standing ovation and a renewed appreciation for the ministry of music.
“I was overwhelmed by the amount of people and the response,” Senior Dylan Schatko said. “With a music department at a school, we sometimes take music we hear for granted. But it’s so refreshing to see people are still touched by this piece and resonate with the message conveyed.”
Asbury University’s music department has performed George Frideric Handel’s masterpiece, Messiah, since 1992. Every four years, students, faculty and the community gather in Hughes Auditorium to hear one of the greatest English oratorios. Directed this year by Dr. Beatrice Holz, more than 100 students from the Men’s Glee Club, Women’s Choir, Chorale and the Orchestra took part on Dec. 2 in the symphony.
Messiah takes prophetic scripture found throughout the Old and New Testament and weaves it into the story of Christ. Handel wrote Messiah in 24 days, and it was rumored, falsely, that God had lifted him into the heavens and shown him the manuscript.
Schatko sang the opening recitative and aria, taken from Isaiah 40. He had been working on his solo since the summer. “Messiah is something we prepared for once we got here this semester,” he said. “It started off with us learning a song every week, and then in November we hit it hard.”
The different ensembles practiced alone for most of the semester until the last few weeks. “It was interesting to work the kinks out when we came together,” Schatko said. “Normally that part of the practice is tough, but everyone came prepared. By the Saturday before the performance, both groups had reached a third gear, and we were in a good spot.”
It’s rare when the three groups do perform together. Junior Brady Parks said it’s like being in the Olympics. “It’s one of the hardest things to sing because the musical difficulty,” said Parks, who sings baritone in men’s glee club. “We had to be focused constantly, no matter if we were singing or not. You don’t want to distract the audience or take away from the beauty of the Messiah.”
Decades ago, there was a group on Asbury’s campus who performed Messiah several times; they would sing with an organ and piano and last performed in 1971.
Asbury reinstated the production in 1992, and the department chose to perform it every four years so each generation of students would have the opportunity to be in it or see it. The piece would also be something special for each student, and Messiah wouldn’t lose any of its luster.
“The piece is a major undertaking,” Dr. Ron Holz, professor of Music at Asbury, said. “It makes for a great commitment that every student needs to experience. The conductor rotates between the music faculty members, and the students rotate. We feel if it were every year, it would be too much repetition.”
Messiah is a non-dramatic performance, like an opera without costumes, Holz said. It has a more reflective tone, and “that’s why it has such an impact on the audience,” he said.
As the final movement progressed and the crowd sang the final notes of the Hallelujah Chorus, everyone stood in the packed auditorium and applauded. The noise filled Hughes for several minutes.
“The standing ovation was one of the most humbling experiences,” Parks said. “We, as an entire group, have accomplished something wonderful. How special and unique an opportunity! My professor said we’re storytelling on stage. How can we praise God with this? How can we show the story of Jesus? Because that’s what it’s all about.”
--by Will Houp '13