CARLSBAD — In the summer of 1741 Baroque composer George Frideric Handel began work on what would become one of the most renowned and performed oratorios in the world.
Taking a little more than 20 days to do it, he composed the “Messiah” in what some described was a fit of creative rapture.
“I did think I did see all of Heaven before me and the great God Himself,” Handel was supposed to have said, according to biographer Paul Henry Lang, though Lang added, the stories of Handel’s raptures remain “unsubstantiated.”
“It is the Christmas piece,” said La Jolla Symphony Choral Director David Chase. “For over a century this piece has been performed and performed and performed. Going back into the 19th century, it’s been the big festival thing to do at Christmas.”
On Dec. 16, Chase will lead not only volunteering members of the La Jolla Symphony and Chorus in a performance of “Messiah,” but also several hundred members of the public for what has become one of the community’s treasured traditions.
“We have about 800 people who show up for this thing, most years,” Chase said. “You’ve got everybody from really dyed-in-the-wool experienced choral singers to kids who’ve not sung it before, and you’re making an opportunity for everybody to participate in this music. It feels like you’re doing something good for everybody.”
The “Messiah” Sing, as it has become known, is a tradition that started with Chase, a Leucadia resident who is now in his 30th year leading the La Jolla Symphony Chorus.
The performance at the St. Elizabeth Seton Catholic Church will include the “Christmas” portion part one, and the “Hallelujah” segment of Handel’s composition.
Bill Ziefle, a member of the La Jolla Symphony Chorus for close to 29 years, has been described as an “aficionado” of the “Messiah” Sing for as many as he’s been a part of, going back to almost its inception with Chase.
“The ‘Messiah’ is a draw,” Ziefle said. “And the people do like to participate, and it’s a way to participate in another Christmas activity that’s shared. They can bring family members or friends, and do it with strangers, too.
“But it really is the music. The ability to be closer with the music by participating in it, I think, is largely the draw for people,” Ziefle said.
This performance will be the fifth year with Fallbrook resident Rosalind Donoghue. Admittedly, Donoghue’s singing experience amounts to her time in her high school choir.
Now a dentist, Donoghue said it was intimidating for her at first to get up and sing, but added that the concert is very accessible. It may help that her daughter Madison is a member of the LJSC or that she brings students from the Fallbrook High School Choir to join her.
“To have the opportunity to join the La Jolla Symphony Choir was exciting,” she said, “but also intimidating. What surprised me so much was that the experience was such a joy and working with Dr. Chase was such an entertaining delight that singing again in a group…they carry you along.
“The choir just surrounds you and you’re part of this magnificent team and the sound is just exquisite, and any mistakes you make are drowned out by the loveliness of the music around you.”
Leading the chorus can be exhilarating, Chase said, adding that what he tries to do is give them just what he gives his own chorus in a performance.
Before the actual performance, Chase gives the chorus a chance to warm up and rehearse, which he said was an interesting challenge, “because you’ve got a huge group of people who’ve never sung together, and I’m trying to get them to think like a chorus in about 10 minutes’ time.”
For Ziefle, who performs as a tenor in the performance, said communal singing was a way of sharing a rewarding experience with other people that you may or may not know.
“There’s absolutely no judgment involved so if people consider themselves a good singer, not a good singer, it absolutely doesn’t matter,” he said. “And there’s no adverse reflection on anybody who feels like they don’t sing on pitch. There’s none of that that goes on…it’s just everybody singing along. Sing if you want, don’t sing if you want…it’s just the experience of getting together to help another element of celebrations of the season,” said Ziefle.
“The performance of ‘Messiah’ in this context can be every bit as much inspiring as a real, prepared performance. It’s amazing how musical the event actually is,” Chase said.
“It’s very inspirational because it is so beautiful,” Donoghue said. “It’s very intellectual because music is, or can be, and because it’s so impressive. This is a masterpiece; a classical masterpiece.
“As far as a religious experience, it’s a glorious piece,” she added. “It’s a piece you can hear people singing on Christmas morning.”
Where: St. Elizabeth Seton Catholic Church, 6628 Santa Isabel St. Carlsbad
When: Dec. 16 at 4 p.m.
Tickets: Adults: $15; Students $8. Call (858) 534-4637