Columbus Sings 'Messiah' -- a treasured tradition returns


James Allen is at the organ for a previous presentation of Columbus Sings

James Allen is at the organ for a previous presentation of Columbus Sings "Messiah" at Annunciation Catholic Church in Columbus. This year's performances are at 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 11. Photo by: Dispatch file photo


Jan Swoope



Posters are out, soloists confirmed, arrangements made for 150 chairs for choir and orchestra, and movers set to transport the harpsichord graciously loaned by First Baptist Church. James Allen and co-organizers of the annual Columbus Sings 'Messiah' are doing all they can in preparation for two performances Dec. 11 at Annunciation Catholic Church in Columbus. The checklist has been followed for years, and Allen hopes to be involved for many more to come. 


The Mississippi University for Women associate professor emeritus of music spearheaded the effort to establish this area-wide choral event in 2001. Now a chorus of 100 to 120 vocalists assemble from throughout the Golden Triangle and beyond to deliver the Christmas portion of George Frideric Handel's oratorio composed in 1741. The work is a touchstone of the holiday season, when audiences thrill to its "Hallelujah Chorus. It's one of the most well-known musical pieces from the baroque period.  


Columbus Sings "Messiah" is an ecumenical effort, drawing participants and audiences from many denominations. What may be astounding to some is that this accomplished choir doesn't practice together for weeks in advance. Instead, they gather at the church for one rehearsal only, the night before, at 7 p.m. Many return year after year to sing the familiar music. Others might be joining in for the first time. 


"It's open to anybody who would like to come and sing," Allen said. "Even if you don't feel like you know it, there are plenty of people to sit beside that do. If you feel comfortable after rehearsal singing in the performance, do; if you don't, then you've had a good learning session. Doug is really good," he said, referring to conductor Doug Browning. 


Phil Stoll of Columbus has sung in the choir for more years than he can recall. So have several of his family members. 


"The primary reason I do it is the spiritual reason. All the words are straight out of scripture," he said. The annual production is also a welcome reunion of sorts, where for two nights, he reunites with others he may not see for the rest of the year. "There are people from every walk of life and every denomination and cultural group there. It's a really diverse group and unique in that regard."  




A part of Christmas 


Soloists Dec. 11 will be tenor Roderick George, baritone Chris O'Rear, soprano Elizabeth Swartz and contralto Heather Warren. Sue Burkhalter will accompany on harpsichord. Allen will be at the organ. Instrumentalists will also perform on violin, viola, cello, trumpet and timpani. 


Swartz, Allen's daughter, was raised on "Messiah." 


"It has been a part of almost every Christmas I can remember in some form or fashion, whether it was being taken to hear it at another church, sitting on the organ bench beside my daddy, singing in the choir or singing solos -- it's been a part of my life."  


The holiday season can often become hectic; so can preparing for a choral event. 


"But when the music starts and you sit down and see all the choir, your friends, family, people you love to be with, and you think about what a gift from God it was for Handel to write this in the short time he wrote it in, you feel the whole joy," said Swartz. 




How to go  


Free tickets to ensure seating for desired performance times are available in Columbus at the Tennessee Williams Home Welcome Center, 300 Main St., and at Impressions by Susan at 424 Main St. 


For more information about the Dec. 11 performance or Dec. 10 rehearsal, contact Swartz at First United Methodist Church, 662-328-5252. 






WHO: Area-wide choir/orchestra 


WHAT: Columbus Sings "Messiah," directed by Doug Browning 


WHEN: Tuesday, Dec. 11; 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. 


WHERE: Annunciation Catholic Church, 823 College St., Columbus 


ADMISSION: Free tickets for seating at the Tennessee Williams Home (300 Main St.) or Impressions by Susan (424 Main St.)


Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.


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