'Messiah' being revived Dec. 8

Dori O'Neal, Tri-City HeraldDecember 5, 2013 

It has been a couple of years since the Oratorio Chorus at Richland's Central United Protestant Church sang the classic oratorio Messiah.

But Dec. 8, the Mid-Columbia Mastersingers will revive the beloved Christmas music, which celebrates the birth, life, death and resurrection of Christ, in the auditorium at Faith Assembly Church, 1800 N. Road 72, Pasco.

Justin Raffa, artistic director of the Mastersingers, got involved with the Central United Protestant Messiah performances after Gary Jones left as music director.

"When Gary left, I picked up the performance to try and keep the Oratorio Chorus alive," he said.

But it didn't last long, as the church changed its funding process and eliminated the annual performances. Raffa decided to revive the music for this year.

"We've partnered with some local churches who were interested in offering a sing-along performance, which hadn't been done in the community for several years," Raffa said.

So the Mastersingers will hold Messiah sing-alongs at 2 and 7 p.m. Dec. 7 at Faith Assembly, and the Mastersingers will perform the piece at 3 p.m. Dec. 8.

The sing-along costs $5 for the afternoon performance and $10 for the evening show. Admission to the Dec. 8 concert is $20 for adults and free to students. Tickets are available at the door or at www.midcolumbiamastersingers.org.

George Frideric Handel composed the music for Messiah in 1741. He wrote it as an English-language oratorio because he had lived in England since 1712.

The Mastersingers were invited last Christmas to sing Messiah with the Walla Walla Symphony, and Raffa longed to bring it back to the Tri-Cities.

"There has been a strong desire among local arts patrons to continue the annual Messiah performance here in Tri-Cities," Raffa said. "Hence our decision to get involved and continue this tradition. The work is quite challenging to perform. I often wonder why American choirs decided to embrace a choral work that is so difficult to sing well."

Most choral music that sprang from the baroque era is difficult to sing because of the melismas sung at fast tempos, he said. Melismas are a single syllable of text sung while moving between several different notes in succession.

"Messiah is famous for these melismas," Raffa said. "Many listeners are drawn to Messiah's storyline as the text outlines the life of the figure of Jesus from the proclamation of his coming, his birth, life, death and resurrection.

"It is commonly performed in the U.S. around Christmastime, when Jesus' birth is observed in the Christian calendar. The work is more commonly performed in Europe and elsewhere around the world during Easter. Handel's Messiah is to American choirs as Nutcracker is to American ballet," he said.

-- Dori O'Neal: 582-1514; doneal@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @dorioneal

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