A chorus rehearses Handel’s “Messiah” at Calvary Presbyterian Church in 2017. This year’s annual performance is Dec. 1. Photo by Joseph Ruiz

FROM the horror that was Sept. 11, 2001 came a tradition that is now in its 19th year — the singing of George Frideric Handel’s “Messiah’’ by a volunteer chorus at the Calvary Presbyterian Church in South Pasadena.

“Good and right things do happen in life. To establish perspective and understanding, we can look at what is good and learn,’’ said Mike Wilson, director of music at the church, located at 1050 Fremont Ave.

Wilson, who has been director of music for 22 years, remembers that at the first performance after planes flew into the Twin Towers in New York City, “There was a feeling of togetherness in 2001. Music was the magnet.’’

Pat Martinez Miller, who has been a volunteer chorus member for most of the performances, put it in a slightly different way.

“It is a chance to refocus on things that have happened over the year and have a belief that we can do a better job,’’ she said. “You can’t walk out after singing the “Hallelujah Chorus’’ without thinking that humankind can work together to do better.’’

The majority of the 40 singers do not go to Calvary Church.

“What’s most important is that this is an eclectic group of friends who come together to do something special in December,’’ Miller said. “We’ve become part of each other’s lives.’’

The oratorio, which was composed in 1741, is performed at Calvary on the first Sunday in December — which means this year it will be on Sunday, Dec. 1, at 4 p.m. Admission is free. People should allow 20-30 minutes to find parking.

The South Pasadena Community Chorus is joined by a 15-piece orchestra gathered from South Pasadena, Pasadena and Los Angeles.

The program presents only the first section dealing with Christmas, plus the piece de resistance, the “Hallelujah Chorus,’’ which is really found in a later section of the work.

The choral group also gets together in the spring — sometimes to do the rest of the “Messiah,’’ which deals with the death of Christ, and the third section, which brings the promise of redemption.

The chorus has also bypassed Handel in the spring and done choral works by Brahms or Faure.

Taylor Jacobs is a professional singer, and he was bouncing to the music during a rehearsal I attended. He had a big smile for his choral members during and after the rehearsal.

“There’s a different feeling here because you want to be expressive,’’ Jacobs said. “The chorus gives me such a high. I’m not super religious. I never grew up with the church, but everyone here is super nice. I do religious stuff because of the music.’’

Rachel Green is one volunteer who sang in the choir as a youngster.

“I sang in choirs as a kid, but I’ve been doing what people do when they settle down,’’ said Green, who has two children and has sung with youngsters in her job as an educator.

Green estimates that she has sung “Messiah’’ nine or 10 times at Calvary Presbyterian.

“I’ve sung it so much that my husband is getting to know the songs,’’ she said.

Rehearsing for the Handel’s “Messiah” concert put on annually at Calvary Presbyterian Church. This year’s performance is Dec. 1. Photo by Joseph Ruiz

Wilson explained that the oratorio is relatively simple to do — with standard operatic format and scenes that are clearly and completely stated.

Another draw is that the “Messiah’’ is in English and the “Hallelujah Chorus” is well-known.

“It is an eternal draw. People know it. It is accessible. You may not know another oratorio that says Christmas like the ‘Messiah,’ ’’ said Wilson, noting that the performance draws almost a packed house of 500 people every year.

It started, Wilson said, as a sing-along, and that concept was eventually dropped. There are no auditions, but there is currently room for only soprano, tenor and bass singers.

“You open the score and the music takes over and you hear the magic and genius of Handel,’’ Wilson said. “We are all vessels through which the music pours.’’

Ginny Reynolds believes it is the spirituality that brings her to love “Messiah.’’

“This music is God’s word,’’ she said. “Singing the ‘Messiah’ is singing, And his name shall be called ‘wonderful … counsellor.’

“You are saying, ‘Yea, God.’ ’’

Andy Lippman’s “Spiritually Speaking” appears monthy in the Review.

Andy Lippman
Author

A former Los Angeles bureau chief for the Associated Press, Lippman writes weekly about some South Pasadena person, business, issue or trend.

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