A regional orchestra and choir gathers each December to perform Columbus Sings Messiah — 13 numbers from the Advent-Christmas sections, plus six later numbers, from G. Frideric Handel's iconic composition. Performances are 6 pm. and 8 p.m. Dec. 10 at Annunciation Catholic Church in Columbus. Photo by: Dispatch file photo
November 30, 2019 10:04:18 PM
Columbus Sings Messiah on Tuesday, Dec. 10 will have two choruses. A chorus of about 110 people will be singing the big Handel numbers inside Annunciation Catholic Church at 823 College St. Then behind the scenes, another chorus will be maneuvering before, during and after the annual 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. performances.
This unheard chorus focuses on raising money, getting the church ready and serving supper to all the musicians, including an orchestra of 10, between the performances. Its work will have started long before founding coordinator James Allen and his family team move the harpsichord from First Baptist Church into Annunciation next Sunday afternoon.
That work really begins in September with an early and minute timetable sent out by Tom Buckley of the Messiah steering committee.
He works closely with Allen, who said of the overall effort, "We are blessed with talented and determined volunteers who handle so much," he said. "We've got people from all over who are determined that Columbus Sings Messiah be a musical success and what we might call a logistical success -- because there is a lot of timing involved."
One of those checking the mental stopwatch is Annunciation member Stewart Stafford.
"The group I am with mainly works on general logistics," Stafford said. "We start by rearranging the sanctuary so the harpsichord can be there in time for the tuner that Tuesday afternoon." That labor also makes room for the 140 chairs the McConnell Brothers crew brings in for the audience.
"Our group also helps Pepper's and the Columbus Cultural Heritage Foundation bring in the 150 boxed meals and 200 bottles of water for the supper about 7 o'clock," Stafford noted.
"We've got to have everything ready when that first Messiah is over so that the second one can start right on time."
Continuing a tradition
Annunciation has hosted Columbus Sings Messiah since 2001.
Heritage Foundation Director Nancy Carpenter and her staff -- Frances Glenn, Sharon Johnson and Robert Meady -- set up 40 extra chairs in the church's activities center, then help assure that the suppers and tea and lemonade are ready when the first "show'' ends.
"We get started that morning," Carpenter said. "It is an honor for the foundation to help in putting on this community Messiah. This is an event that so many Columbians and visitors look forward to every year. For nine years now, we have enjoyed this partnership to put on something everyone can enjoy. This music has citywide appeal."
Stafford made a similar point.
"I think this is an unusually high level of artistic talent for a city our size. You see that in the full audiences. And we've got people from all different churches in the chorus and behind the scenes -- those 180 chairs and the music stands come from First Methodist," he said. "There's a real value in working together on something everyone can be a part of. And for a lot of people, Messiah is the start of Christmas."
Beforehand, many people are taking on their assignment from the detailed timetable -- some 35 entries ranging from fundraising to banners to harpsichord tuning.
Annunciation's Buckley, for instance, has sent out this year's reminder letters to the choristers and letters seeking donations: Messiah costs about $8,000 a year. "We raise right around that amount every year," said Buckley. In 2018, some 510 people heard the two presentations.
"I agree with Stewart," Buckley said. ''This is a great way to start Christmas. It's fun to see people enjoying it. And our audience and participants cut across all denominations and ethnicities."
Buckley's crew of 10 joins with Stafford's and Annunciation sexton Richard Hicks to get the church ready, then handles the ushering and programs, too.
"Everybody pitches in and helps," he said. "And then when Messiah is over, the ushers and a lot of the chorus members go back in that night and get the chairs ready to go back and get the sanctuary ready for the week. When we leave, it's all done -- except for returning the harpsichord."
Following the memo, Buckley and Stafford work also with Annunciation's priest, Father Jeffrey Waldrep. He'll be on hand to welcome everyone Dec. 10.
"We at Annunciation Church are honored to host this event each year," he said. "It fills our hearts to see people of all faiths and from various neighboring communities come together as soloists, instrumentalists and choir members and gather one night of the year for two unforgettable performances. We are happy to welcome them all back.
"With our acoustically sound sanctuary, versatile seating and hundreds of volunteers from the surrounding counties, this is the perfect environment to celebrate Jesus' nativity, passion, resurrection and ascension."
First Methodist choir director Doug Browning will conduct again this year. Soloists are Roderick George, Heather Warren, Chris O'Rear and Elizabeth Swartz.
IF YOU GO:
■ WHO: Regional choir, orchestra
■ WHAT: Columbus Sings Messiah
■ WHEN: Tuesday, Dec. 10, 6 p.m. and 8 p.m.
■ WHERE: Annunciation Catholic Church, 823 College St. Columbus
■ TICKETS: Free tickets are recommended to ensure seating, available at Impressions by Susan, Columbus Convention and Visitors Bureau, Tennessee Williams Home Welcome Center, First United Methodist Church, Annunciation Catholic Church.