Years before I heard “Messiah” performed for the first time, I already knew a lot of Handel’s oratorio by heart. That’s because it was one of the things my family sang in the living room, usually during the Christmas season, but sometimes at Easter, too.
We were a big family — five kids, parents and a grandmother — so we were able to cover all the parts, especially during the years when my younger brothers could still sing soprano. We would gather around the upright piano my father had built from spare parts (he was a third-generation piano tuner) and peer over my mother’s shoulder as she ripped through the keyboard transcription, transposing down whenever the soprano line rose to the point where whoever was singing screamed or hammering the bass line when it was too low for anyone to reach.
Somehow, we all knew how to read music; it seemed that we learned the skill through osmosis. Occasionally, one of us would have enough nerve — or ego — to sing some of the arias. But for the most part, it was the choruses that drew the most attention.
Maybe this is why I’ve never had the slightest interest in participating in a “Messiah” sing-along: Too much familiarity and too little discipline.
But this is the season for group-sings of “Messiah,” and one of the best is taking place at 6:30 p.m. Sunday at St. Olaf Catholic Church in downtown Minneapolis. The event is organized by the Minnesota Chorale, whose members will fan out into the audience to help keep the melismas moving in choruses like “And He Shall Purify.”
Soloists from the chorale will handle the arias and recitatives. Minnesota Chorale Artistic Director Kathy Salzman Romey will conduct, and St. Olaf’s powerful Lively-Fulcher pipe organ will be played by Lynn Trapp, the church’s music director.
Anyone who feels the need to practice beforehand (what an odd idea) can email Melissa Morey, the chorale’s director of operations, to request a score in advance.
“Messiah.” 6:30 p.m. Sunday, St. Olaf Catholic Church, Minneapolis. Admission is free, though a free-will offering will be taken. Scores will be available 30 minutes before the performance. For other details, go here.