I’ve always wanted to do a Messiah Sing. It sounded like great fun – the audience and the performers are one and the same. An orchestra is provided, and singers come together to sit in the auditorium and sing Handel’s Messiah from beginning to end. So when I saw that St. Scholastica had a Messiah Sing, I decided I’d go.
I’d sung a number of pieces from The Messiah in my high school and college choirs, so I knew some of the sections would be very familiar to me. In fact, I doubted I needed the music for “For Unto Us” and of course the “Hallelujah Chorus.” Something that monumental sticks with you for life. I knew there would be pieces of music I’d never seen before, but I was counting on my rusty sight reading skills and the more experienced singers around me to carry me through. I recruited a friend to go with me, and I was ready for the challenge.
But I had another reason for going. Back last summer when we were cleaning out Mom’s house, we went through all her old music. I found a score for The Messiah that had belonged to her mother, Mabel, with her name hand written on the cover. It felt like a treasure and I claimed it for my own, hoping for this very opportunity.
Mabel was a music teacher and the first music supervisor for the Iron River, Michigan public schools in the first quarter of the 1900s. She was known for loving “show business” and the musicals she put on, both in the schools and in the community. She also greatly enriched the music program to serve all students in the schools. We found a tribute written about her for the town’s centennial celebration. One phrase jumped out at me, “Surely no one belonging to the mixed chorus could ever forget rehearsing ‘The Hallelujah Chorus’ from Handel’s famous oratorio, ‘The Messiah.'”
The score sat on my bookshelf until last night. So as we progressed through the music singing, I found Mabel’s notations for the first time. It felt so deeply personal to see her markings for expression, for breathing, for dynamics. I loved turning the brittle yellowed pages, knowing she had turned them, probably directing that school choir. It made the evening special, bringing back my musical roots and reminding me of my own musical training starting from a young age.
I never knew my grandmother, Mabel. She died when my mother was 16. But she left behind a musical legacy that lived on through my mom and on down through me and my own children. I am so very thankful to her for that. And I look forward to next year, when I will again bring her score to sing The Messiah.