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1941 Attack Could Not Stop 'Messiah'

Some media reports have indicated that celebrations this holiday season may be somewhat subdued as the result of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. On Friday people of the Huntsville community will sing the "Messiah," and commemorate a similar event 60 years ago that also followed a sobering surprise attack on this country.

At 7:30 p.m. Friday at the First United Methodist Church, Huntsville's musical, university, and Christian communities will join in a unique collaborative "'Messiah' Sing-Along" to commemorate Huntsville's first performance of Handel's well-known oratorio.

That performance came on the day of another historical event--the attack on Pearl Harbor on Sunday Dec. 7, 1941.

Sixty years ago, after the shocking news of the Sunday morning attack on Pearl Harbor, the organizers of the Huntsville premiere of the "Messiah" scheduled that evening were faced with a decision--proceed with or cancel the performance. Not only concerned about attendance, they had to consider whether it was appropriate to pursue the performance in light of the day's events. They decided to proceed.

The first part of "Messiah," with a chorus of 110 university, high school, and community singers accompanied by the university orchestra, under the direction of Charles Lindsay, was presented to a standing-room-only audience who crowded their way into the Memorial Auditorium in Old Main on the SHSU campus the evening of Dec. 7, 1941.

It marked the beginning of a musical tradition that has become a part of the history of Huntsville, as "Messiah" performances became an annual holiday event, anticipated by its musicians and townspeople.

Newspaper articles publicizing the event in 1941 called "The Messiah" "...not only the greatest of Handel's oratorios, but...the greatest and most popular of all oratorios," and "the most famous work in sacred literature" (Huntsville Item and The Houstonian, respectively).

The printed program for the Friday's Sing-Along will include the full text of several articles from December 1941 related to the performance, which took place in the beloved campus building destroyed by fire in 1982.

Sing-Along organizer Brian Miller was impressed by the significance of the two events, one scheduled and the other a surprise, but falling on the same day.

"The two independently historic events will always be connected in the community of Huntsville," said Miller. "Beyond the emotional appeal for the rest of the world, 'Messiah' offered comfort to the audience at Memorial Auditorium on the evening of December 7, 1941.

"As we struggle with the recent events that have affected our country, perhaps this enduring oratorio will again provide similar joy and healing to our community."

In contrast to a traditional concert performance of "Messiah," the audience in a Sing-Along is invited to bring (or purchase) musical scores and join in the singing of the choruses. In keeping with the first "Messiah" performance in Huntsville, only the first ("Christmas") section and the universally known "Hallelujah Chorus" from the second section of "Messiah" will be presented.

The "lead choir" will consist of members from Huntsville's five community-based choral ensembles, the Huntsville Community Choral Society, the Bach Choir of Huntsville, the Huntsville Children's Choir, the Huntsville Men's Choir, and the Huntsville Senior Choir.

For the six choruses of "Messiah", the baton will be passed among six conductors associated with the ensembles: Wayne Barrett, Dani Gathright, Allen Hightower III, Brian Miller, Harley Rex, and Norman Ward.

Soloists Dorothy Maddison, Barbara Corbin, Gary Hood, and Christopher Michel will represent both the university and the community at-large. Jay Whatley, assistant professor of music at the SHSU School of Music, will accompany at the organ, and Keith Williams will perform a brief program of Christmas music before the Sing-Along.

The Christian community will be represented by the ministers of the Baptist, Christian, Methodist, and Presbyterian denominations and by church choir members who committed their participation in the event.

For singers who want to practice with the choruses, a dress rehearsal, open to the public, is scheduled for Thursday, December 6, at 7 p.m. at First United Methodist Church.

Scores will be available for sale to the public Thursday and Friday evenings. There is no admission charge for the Sing-Along, but donations will be accepted to help defray expenses.

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SHSU Media Contact: Frank Krystyniak
Dec. 5, 2001
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