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Community choir to perform Handel’s Messiah

Elmira’s community choir group rehearses for several upcoming performances of Handel’s Messiah at Woodside Bible Fellowship. [Veronica Reiner / The Observer]

Looking to repeat the charitable aspects of the first performance of Handel’s classic oratorio, a local community choir will perform Messiah at three upcoming concerts.

Some 140 singers from in and around Woolwich have been practicing since January to prepare for the mid-April shows. The community choir is a brand-new venture, with choir director Gordon Wright having been inspired by another group of singers in the area.

“The churches in Elmira work together really well, and they do an annual concert and carol sing every year,” said Wright. “So I was at that, and I heard these hundred or something people singing together, and I thought ‘You know what? These guys could do Messiah.’ So I threw the idea to the minister, and they said ‘Oh yeah. You need to do it.’”

The number of people who came out far surpassed Wright’s expectations – he predicted roughly 70 interested singers, but twice that amount wanted to join. Wright said the group features a mix of both newcomers and experienced singers.

“When I asked the first practice who has experience, about half said ‘oh yes we’ve done this before.’ And half had never done it,” said Wright.

“There’s a really strong musical tradition in this area, for sure, and a lot of people have done it before, and that makes it great for people who have never done it. Because you sort of join in the stream and you find yourself singing along and you learn way quicker.”

The group practices every Thursday in sessions that are a fun learning atmosphere above all.

“The big group – the 140 – do the little bit easier, the more well-known songs,” said Wright. “And then they head out after an hour and then those that want to, maybe 40 or so, stay and work on the harder ones,” said Wright. “So that means everybody’s sort of doing it from their level, and I think enjoying it more.”

Woolwich Community Services, Hospice Waterloo, and Kitchener Sanctuary Refugee Health Centre are the three charities that the proceeds will go towards.

Handel’s Messiah is an English oratorio (large musical composition featuring orchestra, choir and soloists) composed in 1741 by George Frideric Handel, with scriptural text from the King James Bible compiled by Charles Jennens.

The very first performance of this Baroque-era three-part piece took place in Dublin in mid-April 1742. Wright said that the choice of dates for the upcoming concerts was intentional: he wanted to reflect the spirit of the original.

“Messiah has been strongly linked to charity. At its first performances, they supported three charities,” said Wright. “And he actually literally got 120 people out of debtor’s prison. They just got in there because they couldn’t pay their debts and they found themselves in prison. And the first performance freed those 120 people from debtor’s prison and helped children through songs. So we wanted to kind of continue that by supporting three local charities.”

The group will perform some 15 choruses from the piece; the full performance of Handel’s Messiah is approximately two-and-a-half hours long.

Performances are scheduled for April 12 at 7:30 p.m. and April 13 at 3 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. at Woodside Church in Elmira. Another performance will take place on April 14 at Floradale Mennonite Church at 3 p.m. Tickets are $5 and can be purchased from Living Waters Bookstore, Foodland, Woodside Church, and Floradale Mennonite Church.

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