Thinking Out Loud

November 26, 2018

Let’s Talk Classical Music, If You Think You Can Handel It

Saturday night the choir in which my wife sings presented, a more or less complete performance of Handel’s Messiah. Despite being intimately familiar with some of the pieces either through playing or singing, this was my first time hearing everything in full context.

Handel‘s orchestral works are among my all time favorite classical pieces. Especially the Overture to the Royal Fireworks and the Finale from the Suite in D major of the Water Music. (Is it nerdy that I have favorite classical pieces? I don’t think so. Yesterday at church I was belting out the lyrics to Jesus Culture and Elevation Worship with everyone else.)

I knew some of the Messiah pieces well enough to spot some changes in interpretation that the new music director of the choir was bringing to this performance. I suppose this is how music critics get started, but even as a seasoned writer, I would find a choral concert review a rather daunting task.

So two thoughts here:

One is the same question I found myself asking when the same choir performed a Requiem by Fauré: How many of these singers and musicians truly know the One about whom they are singing? Do they believe that “the Lord God omnipotent reigneth?” Or let’s get really Evangelical: Does the Lord God omnipotent reign in their hearts? (Not a recommended opening evangelistic question.)

Exactly a week earlier, I had stood on a stage in front of a much smaller audience and sung the Andrae Crouch lyric, “No, it’s not just a story, but reality.” It was part of a larger, 3-night series of mini-performances involving people from across a wide spectrum in the community. I did wonder how many of the performers would be in a worship service that weekend. Everyone knows the lyric, “God and sinners reconciled;” but how many can tell you how that atonement process works? Or how they’ve experienced it?

Perhaps that’s asking too much. Students of classical music simply take the religious texts as a given. That was the music of the day. People went to church on Sunday, too; but that’s another discussion. In the choir were some of the best of the best musicians in our little town; people who themselves would be directing church choirs the next morning — being paid to do so — but the question would still stand; is this just another gig or do they know the Jesus of whom we speak? Let’s face it, musicians are the worst. The poster children for total depravity.

All this begs a greater question when it comes to the members of the audience: At a personal level how do they relate to the lyrics as they are hearing them? Are they simply captivated by the soloists vocal ability or the richness of the full choir harmony in a glorious crescendo? Or do they internalize the message that “He shall reign forever and ever.” (And ever and ever.)

We never really know the spiritual state of someone else. How God has worked and continues to work in their lives. Or what masks of pretension they don when walking into a church building. 

Messiah is about Jesus. He’s not in the choral work insofar as he doesn’t show up to turn water to wine, feed the 5,000 or raise Lazarus. But it’s all about him. It’s helpful to know that on a personal level.

Second, I marveled at the texts from Isaiah in a new and fresh way. They were almost… I don’t know… prophetic. (Okay, that was bad.) You grow up in church and you know that the writings in that section of your Bible are called ‘Major Prophets’ for a reason, but when your mind is awakened to the details of those prophecies — particularly the Messianic ones — it’s as though the writers were inspired. (Okay, that was also bad.)

…Messiah doesn’t end with the chorus ‘Hallelujah.’ There is a much shorter third part and then the climax is ‘Worthy Is the Lamb.’ provided below.

Blessing and honor and glory and power be unto Him!

► One of this blog’s all-time most popular posts is, Hallelujah Chorus: Should Audiences Still Stand? There are now 112 comments and they are far more interesting than what I wrote! (Yes, we stood on Saturday night.)

 

 

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June 27, 2015

The Hallelujah Chorus Tradition

 

Hallelujah Chorus

This weekend we’re re-posting two of this blog’s all-time most viewed posts, and today’s couldn’t be more different from yesterday’s. It looks at the tradition of audiences standing during the playing of Hallelujah from Messiah by G. F. Handel. Unlike yesterday’s topic, this one also generated a lot of comments. If you want to leave yours, you’ll have to do so at the original posting, so that we keep all the responses together in one place.

Hallelujah Chorus: Should Audiences Still Stand?

We live in a world where many formal traditions are dying out. I was thinking a few days ago how the mug has replaced the cup and saucer. How a generation of North American men don’t know how to tie a tie. How the courtesy of a reply to a letter has gone the way of the dinosaur. So what about this seemingly quaint tradition involving a popular classical choral work?

Wikipedia tells us the origin of the tradition under consideration here:

In many parts of the world, it is the accepted practice for the audience to stand for this section of the performance. The tradition is said to have originated with the first London performance of Messiah, which was attended by King George II. As the first notes of the triumphant Hallelujah Chorus rang out, the king rose to his feet and remained standing until the end of the chorus. Royal protocol has always dictated that when the monarch stands, everyone in their presence is also required to stand. Thus, the entire audience and orchestra stood when the king stood during the performance, initiating a tradition that has lasted more than two centuries. It is lost to history the exact reason why the King stood at that point, but the most popular explanations include:

  • He was so moved by the performance that he rose to his feet.
  • Out of tribute to the composer.
  • As was and is the custom, one stands in the presence of royalty as a sign of respect. The Hallelujah chorus clearly places Christ as the King of Kings. In standing, King George II accepts that he too is subject to the Lord of Lords.
  • He had been dozing and woke with a start.

But it could be argued that, “that was then and this is now.” I mean, if historians can’t agree as to the why, it really leaves us with a tradition that is somewhat empty.

So, with Handel’s Messiah still being performed frequently — especially at Christmas and Easter — should audiences continue the tradition of standing for the Hallelujah Chorus? Turns out this is a very heated topic, now with over 50 responses. Be sure to read the comments and take a moment to add yours.


Comment highlights:

  • Handel’s Messiah has more entertainment value than that of liturgical worship…
  • …even if no one else stood with me, I would stand.
  • No one stood. I could not remain seated! I had to stand out of honor for my King. After several stanzas someone behind me asked me to sit down, they couldn’t see. I was so sad.
  • …we always seem to be dumping wonderful traditions.
  • I now find that it is very disruptive and halts the flow of the music. Not only is the magnificent introduction to the movement often drowned out by the noise of an audience rising, the final bars of the preceding tenor aria are often ruined by the shuffling of people in their seats waiting to stand.
  • It is absolutely nu-American to stand. Why are we still honoring the grandfather of George III? Read the Declaration of Independence.
  • There is nothing to say that we have to stand while the Hallelujah Chorus is sung, but there is nothing that says we have to say when our team scores a touchdown either, but we do.
  • I was told as a youngster that this was sort of the national anthem of music. We always stood. Went to Boston Pops Christmas concert today and no one stood.
  • Tradition and respect are two wonderful things which sadly are being diluted in today’s world
  • …current thinking is that King George II just needed to use the lavatory…
  • Just came from the full performance in one of the great acoustical halls. Disney in Los Angeles. The standing sheep seriously degraded the sound. (I got really mad at that one and suggested that the “standing sheep” are really “informed concert-goers”)

and many more.

December 14, 2010

Hallelujah Chorus: Should Audiences Still Stand?

Filed under: Christmas, music — Tags: , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:51 pm

Note: The main substance of what’s here is in the comments left by readers like you. Take time to read some or all…

We live in a world where many formal traditions are dying out.   I was thinking a few days ago how the mug has replaced the cup and saucer.  How a generation of North American men don’t know how to tie a tie. How the courtesy of a reply to a letter has gone the way of the dinosaur.

Wikipedia tells us the origin of the tradition under consideration here:

In many parts of the world, it is the accepted practice for the audience to stand for this section of the performance. The tradition is said to have originated with the first London performance of Messiah, which was attended by King George II. As the first notes of the triumphant Hallelujah Chorus rang out, the king rose to his feet and remained standing until the end of the chorus. Royal protocol has always dictated that when the monarch stands, everyone in their presence is also required to stand. Thus, the entire audience and orchestra stood when the king stood during the performance, initiating a tradition that has lasted more than two centuries.   It is lost to history the exact reason why the King stood at that point, but the most popular explanations include:

  • He was so moved by the performance that he rose to his feet.
  • Out of tribute to the composer.
  • As was and is the custom, one stands in the presence of royalty as a sign of respect. The Hallelujah chorus clearly places Christ as the King of Kings. In standing, King George II accepts that he too is subject to the Lord of Lords.
  • He had been dozing and woke with a start.

But it could be argued that, “that was then and this is now.”   I mean, if historians can’t agree as to the why, perhaps it really leaves us with a tradition that is somewhat empty.

So, with Handel’s Messiah being performed frequently at this time of the year, should audiences continue the tradition of standing for the Hallelujah Chorus? Be sure to read the comments and take a moment to add yours.

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