P O W E L L, W y o. - Big Horn Basin residents have two chances this month to treat themselves to the longtime Christmas tradition of Handel's "Messiah." The entire Christmas portion of the enduring work will be performed in concert at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 16, in Powell at the Nelson Performing Arts Center and in Cody at 4 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 17, at the Cody Auditorium.
Both performances feature a 90-voice choir of singers from the Northwest Master Chorale, the Northwest College Concert Choir and "Messiah" singers from Cody. The instrumental accompaniment is given by the Northwest Civic Orchestra.
Featured soloists are Cody singers Emily Poindexter (soprano) and Jonine Geile (alto) and Bernie Du Monthier, a tenor from Lovell. Northwest College students who fill soloist parts are sopranos Marie Frame of Cody and Katie Robichaud of Powell, and bass Nick Johnson of Colstrip, Mont.
Jan Kliewer, an assistant professor of choral music at Northwest College, will direct the combined choir in both performances. He said the "Messiah" and its performance history is "an unprecedented musical tradition that has lasted for 250 years."
The work's enduring popularity is enhanced, in part, by a tradition that accompanies its most well-known segment, the "Hallelujah" chorus. Kliewer said when the work was first performed, George II, the less-than-sophisticated Hanoveren monarch mistook the rousing chorus for the English national anthem and stood in a show of patriotism. With their visiting sovereign on his feet, audience members were also obligated to rise from their seats. And so a tradition was begun that is observed even today - the audience stands for the entirety of the "Hallelujah" chorus.
A popular myth regarding the "Hallelujah" tradition is that the monarch was so moved by the music he felt compelled to stand. Most scholars discard that idea, Kliewer said, preferring to credit the standing tradition to the monarch's unfamiliarity with the English language and customs rather than an emotional response to the music.
Personally, Kliewer finds as much intrigue in the work's 21st movement "His Yoke is Easy," which falls right before the "Hallelujah" chorus in the Christmas traditional concert.
"This title may suggest an easy burden," Kliewer said, "but the truth is the music is anything but easy for singers to master. It's the most difficult passage in the entire work. Considering the irony between the title's suggestion and the music itself, the word joke is just too close to yoke. I think Handel was pulling someone's leg. He was smiling all the way when he wrote this particular piece."
In keeping with the "Messiah" tradition, no admission is charged, but free-will donations will be accepted to support the Powell Loaves and Fishes and the Cody Cupboard.
The concert series is underwritten in part through a grant from the Celeste Lawson Memorial Fund of the United Methodist Church in Cody.