Sunday, Nov. 26, was an opportunity I never expected, but thanks to my daughter, Rebecca, we went to New York City with the Cary (N.C.) Community Choir and joined 200 other singers to sing (with orchestra) Handel’s Messiah on stage in Carnegie Hall.
For the uninitiated, Carnegie Hall is an icon of a four-tier performance hall of gold leaf and white with cushioned red seats.
Its history goes back to 1890. It is a brick structure that takes up one-half of a block at 56th Street and 7th Avenue. It seats 2,700 in the audience and our performance was sold out.
George Frideric Handel wrote and composed Messiah in 1724 for 33 instrumentalists and 32 singers. Based on scripture, it is the story, message, death and resurrection of Jesus, the Christ.
Like Jesus, the first performance in Dublin was very well received but later in London performances fell flat, night after night. But now thousands sing it around the world.
The most familiar song in it has been memorized by people all over the world; The Hallelujah Chorus. Many Christian churches and professional choirs sing it at Christmas and at Easter.
I have sung it in Neosho and Kansas City, Mo., Savannah, Ga., Bedford and Altoona, Pa. Actually, I got laryngitis in Altoona and had to lip-sync it in front of the Bishop of the Cathedral there… per the director’s instructions.
The Carnegie experience was totally different from all the others. First of all, and most revealing, were the three rehearsals we had.
The first was five hours long with no breaks. The second was also five hours with one five-minute break. The third was a dress rehearsal of three hours which included our only rehearsal with the orchestra and learning how to get on and off stage and into the box seats above the audience below.
The hall is very tall and it seemed we climbed hundreds of stairs.
The purpose of putting some singers in box seats was the splitting of the total 400 voice choir so as to have half of us above the audience and half way back on both sides of the first and second tier.
This created the sounds of Hallelujah surrounding the audience below. I can tell you the audience just went crazy with the thrill of it.
We sopranos looked down as the holy angels must have done looking down upon the shepherds in the fields, watching their flocks by night.
The thrill of singing the Hallelujah in full strength and looking down at happy people was an experience that brings tears to my eyes as I type in North Carolina waiting for my flight home to Neosho.
The last song, Worthy is the Lamb, was also sung in this configuration and it finishes with a seven-fold Amen, also sung in full strength, which musicians call fortissimo.
I have always thought of choir/choral singing as an opportunity everyone in American schools has.
As I sat in box number 57 of Carnegie Hall looking across the Hall at my Rebecca, an alto in box number 13, I realized that all my years of singing first in the Neosho High School choir and every place I have ever lived (except the years in Scotland and Holland) has created the opportunity for this experience.
I am so grateful for all those years, directors and other choristers.
I was also glad to learn of the hard work and time professionals expect of each other. I now can expect professionalism, too. That is what it takes to perform with the best and I am so grateful I was up to the task.
It was a wonderful renewal to thinking about the experience of Christmas and the First Celebration.
It is my wish that everyone might experience something akin to what I have just loved.
As a gift to God, learn Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus at least. You never know when you might be called to a box seat in some Heavenly Hall to Perform with The Best.
(Judy Haas Smith lives in Neosho.)