The chorus had previously sung Part 1 of Messiah at last December’s annual Christmas concert, and then last summer—in celebration of the composer’s 250th anniversary—performed the entire three-part oratorio in Dublin, where Handel first conducted the work in 1742.
I was in Hawai‘i for the Christmas concert, and didn’t go to Ireland with the chorus, so—other than sight-reading it years ago, eggnog in hand, at my mom’s singing group’s Christmas party—I had never before sung Messiah. When we ran through the choruses for the first time in rehearsal a couple of weeks ago, I was therefore one of the few who didn’t already know the piece inside and out.
I was pleased with my performance that night. In the ten years I’ve been in the chorus, my reading ability has much improved, and I was able to get through the piece without too many blunders. (Of course, having everyone around me singing it perfectly also helped.)
Last week we had two rehearsals in the newly-constructed recital hall. When I arrived, I was met with this sight in the entryway to the hall:
Okay, so it wasn’t completely finished yet.
Cheryl was on the stage, discussing placement of the harpsichord with some of her students.
After a few minutes she asked the chorus to come up and get on the risers.
It was time to test the waters, singing for the first time in the new hall. Accompanying us were members of Ensemble Monterey, joined by Cabrillo music instructor Sue Brown as concert-master, and our rehearsal pianist Vlada Volkova-Moran on harpsichord.
We sang the first few choruses while Cheryl’s husband John—the director of Ensemble Monterey, who would be taping the concert—wandered around to different locations in the house, listening to the balance.
“The chorus is drowning out the orchestra,” he told Cheryl at the close of “And He Shall Purify.” That was a new one—it’s always been the opposite in the past, with the orchestra overwhelming the chorus. Cheryl implored us to sing lighter and softer, and we continued with our run-through.
“Still too loud,” John said after a few more minutes.
Cheryl furrowed her brows. “Okay. Everyone off the risers; let’s move them—as well as the orchestra—up a few feet.” This was a bit tricky, because we did not want to scratch that beautiful new pine floor, but it was done quickly and efficiently.
Back on stage, we tried again. John gave a big thumbs up from the back of the house—this had done the trick (though we still needed to sing lightly, Cheryl admonished us.)
Time for the famous “Hallelujah” chorus. We jumped into it with gusto, but were quickly cut off by Cheryl, who reminded us that it was “ha-LEH-loo-ya,” not “ha-LAYEE-loo-ya.”
Here’s a short (:23) video of this portion of the rehearsal (the angle is strange because I had nowhere to set the camera but on the floor in front of me):
I wondered, as we rehearsed the “Hallelujah” chorus, if the audience would stand during the song at the concert.
Legend has it that while attending a performance of Messiah in London, King George II rose to his feet during this chorus. Since protocol demands that whenever the monarch stands, so does everyone in the monarch’s presence, the entire audience (and the orchestra!) therefore stood as well, initiating a tradition that has lasted more than two centuries. No one apparently knows the reason why the king stood at that point (or whether the anecdote is even true), but according to the Wikipedia entry on this subject, the most popular explanations are these:
Because standing in the presence of royalty is a sign of respect, and the “Hallelujah” chorus places Christ as the “King of Kings,” by standing, King George II showed that he accepted that he too was subject to the “Lord of Lords.”
He was so moved by the performance that he rose to his feet.
He arrived late to the performance, and the crowd rose when he finally made an appearance.
His gout acted up at that precise moment, and he rose to relieve the discomfort.
After an hour of musical performance, he needed to stretch his legs.
The first is the most commonly-repeated theory, but I personally prefer the last three. And, yes, the audience did stand for the “Hallelujah” chorus at our concert.
I’m glad to say the performance went off without a hitch, and we—as well as the new hall—were warmly received.