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'Messiah': An annual touchstone invites area singers to join the 'joyful noise'

 

In this 2012 photo, First United Methodist Church Music Director Doug Browning conducts the single rehearsal for “Columbus Sings Messiah” at Annunciation Catholic Church in Columbus. This year’s presentation is Dec. 10, at 6 and 8 p.m. Free tickets to ensure seating are available at First United Methodist Church, Party and Paper and the Tennessee Williams Welcome Center.

In this 2012 photo, First United Methodist Church Music Director Doug Browning conducts the single rehearsal for “Columbus Sings Messiah” at Annunciation Catholic Church in Columbus. This year’s presentation is Dec. 10, at 6 and 8 p.m. Free tickets to ensure seating are available at First United Methodist Church, Party and Paper and the Tennessee Williams Welcome Center. Photo by: Dispatch file photo

 

George Hazard/Special to The Dispatch

 

It's in the bones of the English-speaking world," James Allen says, and you can hear it again Dec. 10 when "Columbus Sings Messiah" comes to Annunciation Catholic Church, 823 College St.  

 

Allen is organist at First United Methodist Church and the guiding sustainer of the free hour-long performances begun in 2001. This year's presentations are at 6 and 8 p.m. with the free tickets available at First United Methodist, Party and Paper, the Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Tennessee Williams Welcome Center, all in Columbus. 

 

The doors open at 5:30 p.m.  

 

Tenor Roderick George returns to open the singing with "Comfort ye, My People" for the 13th straight year. He'll be joined by sopranos Cherry Dunn and Elizabeth Swartz; contralto Cassandra Latimer; and bass Chris O'Rear.  

 

"Messiah" especially means choral music, and there's still time to join the community chorus for this year. Singers in past performances have represented not only Columbus, but Starkville, West Point and surrounding areas as well. 

 

"We welcome anyone into the chorus," Allen said. "Even if you're not in a chorus or choir, or don't know 'Messiah,' come to our practice at 7 p.m. on Dec. 9. Sit next to someone who knows it.  

 

"If you feel comfortable, come back Tuesday. If you don't, come back in 2014." Organizers expect about 100 choristers to deliver "And the Glory of the Lord" after George's opening solo. They'll sing most of their music from "Messiah's" Advent-Christmas section, but also use the later parts.  

 

Doug Browning, First Methodist's music director, is preparing to conduct for the seventh year. "We'll have an orchestra of about 10," he said, "and many members of the chorus come back every year. They know 'Messiah' and can help our newcomers.  

 

"The Christmas portion of the work is full of passion for the subject. And I like that English is the original language: nothing gets lost in translation.  

 

"Oratorios began as a way to tell people about the Bible. Handel brings the stories to life through his musical settings. And Baroque composers were incredible builders of music forms and lines that fit together like a jigsaw puzzle," Browning said.  

 

"Columbus Sings Messiah" costs about $8,000 a year. That support comes from many individual donors and Annunciation Church, the Lowndes Community Foundation, the Columbus Convention and Visitors Bureau and Pepper's Deli, which brings supper to the musicians between performances.  

 

"It's a big project," Allen said. "But look at the total experience: that music, the words, the message. And then we have the bonus of the Annunciation sanctuary. It's the perfect place for this music because of its acoustics and its beauty.  

 

"So very many people connect with Messiah -- they say, 'My Christmas is not complete without Messiah.' As I say, it's in the bones of the English-speaking world."  

 

That world includes the world of Southern accents, Browning said.  

 

"Our biggest challenge is to sing crisply and without that accent. The word 'shall,' for example, is all through 'Messiah.' It's a one-syllable word -- unless you use our Southern accent. So we strive for that pure English diction."  

 

For other challenges, Browning points to "choruses with very active vocal lines, like 'For unto us a child is born.' The parts there chase each other after staggered entrances, then fit together like that jigsaw puzzle. The singers have a very long line to keep in tempo.  

 

"It takes stamina and agility," the conductor said. "But it certainly is worth the effort for the performers and the audience. We look forward to two great performances for everyone." 

 

For more information about the performances, contact the First United Methodist Church office, 662-328-5252.

 

 

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