One of the best things about the holiday season is its music.
Everybody has his favorite tune. Mine is the "Halleluiah Chorus" from Handel's "Messiah." Now you don't hear it on the radio very often or on Muzak in elevators, but it's probably one of the most wonderful choral pieces ever written. It's grand, it's moving, it's thrilling to hear and even better to sing.
My relationship with "Messiah" began 52 years ago. I had been taking piano lessons from Dorothy Greig in Woodmar. She told me about a group that was doing "Messiah" and she thought I would enjoy it. How right she was.
I remember sitting in some church where there was a small orchestra with real violin players and a small chorus of singers. And then they began "Messiah." I sat there truly in awe throughout the concert.
When I thought I couldn't take any more inner joy, they began the "Halleluiah Chorus." That music was all that I could think about until my next lesson. I had so many questions about it and my teacher explained that I could actually buy the vocal selection from Lyon and Healy.
As a kid, you have access to these things. She ordered me the book and soon I had my own record of The Mormon Tabernacle Choir's "Messiah." I still have it.
I would sit for hours in my bedroom, following along the alto line until I could sing right along with the Mormons. Later, we sang the "Hallelujah Chorus" in high school. By that time I knew the alto part forward and backwards, but since we had so few boys, I got to learn the tenor part, too, for performances.
In college, during a USO tour up at Great Lakes Naval Base, a group of us sang the "Halleluiah Chorus" in one of the hospital wards.
That was when a young sailor joined in from his bed. I went and stood next to him, since we were both singing tenor. I can't describe the delight on his face as he and I blasted out that last "Alleluiah."
For 25 years we would sing with the "Do It Yourself Messiah" in Chicago, where thousands of people sang all the chorus sections accompanied by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. One of my favorite memories is when both of my daughters came and sang with me.
One cannot sing this piece without getting a lump in one's throat. I always thought the beauty of "Messiah" was shown in the attending audience. There were people of every age, every race, and every walk of life, each clutching their well-worn vocal selection book.
And here we all were in Chicago, strangers brought together by our love for this piece of music written back in 1741 by an English composer which was performed for the first time in Dublin.
After writing it, Handel said he saw the face of God. Perhaps God is what we all feel when we hear it.