December 4, 2010 10:15:00 PM
James O. Allen remembers well 10 years ago when he and his daughter, Elizabeth Swartz, hoped to bring together an area-wide choir and musicians to perform one of the most anticipated sacred traditions of the holidays -- George Frideric Handel''s "Messiah."
"We really wanted to make this a true community ''Messiah,''" said Allen, associate professor of music at Mississippi University for Women and organist for First United Methodist Church. He recalled with a smile the receptive enthusiasm from Jack Marshall and Maureen Lipscomb of the then-Chamber of Commerce (now the Columbus-Lowndes Development Link), and Farther Gerard Hurley of Annunciation Catholic Church, where the performances are held.
"But we had to have the dollars. If it hadn''t been for Nancy Imes and what she was willing to do, we couldn''t have done it," stated Allen, expressing gratitude to the benefactor and supporters who made it possible to cover the program''s expenses and launch a new decade of the landmark observance that had, at one time, been performed at First Baptist Church.
"So many people have been instrumental in helping us every year. Annunciation has just poured their beautiful church out to us. McConnell Brothers has been gracious to help move chairs, and Peppers has fed the singers and musicians for several years," said Allen, mentioning a sampling of the support team.
One hundred or more professional and non-professional choir and orchestra members from the Golden Triangle and surrounding area will converge Tuesday, Dec. 14, at Annunciation Catholic Church, 823 College St., to perform the Christmas portion of Handel''s 1741 masterwork at 6 p.m. and 8 p.m.
As always, the concerts are free, but tickets to ensure seating are available at the Link, 1102 Main St.; Party and Paper, 218 Fifth St. S.; and First United Methodist Church, 602 Main St.
Soloists will be Cherry Dunn, Jenni Browning, Chris O''Rear, Roderick George and Swartz. Doug Browning, First United Methodist Church music minister, will conduct. Accompanists will be Allen on organ and Nancy Kennedy on harpsichord, along with an orchestra section.
Clare Van Lent, founder of The Dwelling Place south of Columbus, and staff member Mary Horrell have made it their own tradition to sing in "Messiah" every year. Van Lent, a former music instructor, once led choirs in portions of "Messiah" while living in Iowa and Illinois. She several times sang in the local performances at First Baptist Church..
"It''s such a gorgeous piece of music; it''s so uplifting," she said of Handel''s composition. "It is just such a thrill to be part of that gorgeous sound." Remarkably, the choir and orchestra will convene for only one rehearsal Dec. 13.
Allen stressed the integrity and longevity of Handel''s oratorio. "As I teach my students, classical music is performed exactly the way the composer wrote it. It is of great value. And this music is performed all over the world at Christmas time," he said.
Swartz, who previously worked with the Philadelphia Orchestra, encouraged families to bring children, instilling an appreciation for Handel''s composition and classical music, in general. "We always come back to what is familiar to us," she remarked. "We''re building a future," her father added.
For more information about Columbus Sings "Messiah," or to make a donation to the ongoing program, contact The Link at 662-328-8369.
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.