Handel’s Messiah, All Together Now


This time of year, George Frideric Handel’s Messiah is a familiar musical program during the holiday season.  And on Sunday, Dec. 11 at 7 p.m. under the musical direction of Dr. Herman Weiss, the First Parish Congregational Church in Manchester will lead an ambitious cooperative “sing-along” format of the Baroque-era oratorio.

The format is an exciting one, where the audience is provided lyrics to sing along with a professional orchestra (including 14 members of the Cape Ann Symphony), a harpsichordist, choral singers from Boston, and, of course, the First Parish chorus.  Sunday’s performance is open to anyone who wants to sing or listen.  There is no rehearsal for any participant.  Everything is performed fresh the night of the sing-along.  Because there are no rehearsals, the event promises to have a fresh, serendipitous feel.

“The format is reciprocal,” said Weiss, an internationally renowned composer, conductor, organist and pianist who has been musical director at the First Parish Church for three years.    “The whole idea is that people who may or may not know each other will spontaneously get together with professionals to create something beautiful.”

Weiss has conducted several Messiah “sing-alongs” in the Greater Boston area.  This one in Manchester, he said, offers the perfect venue in the First Parish Church.  For one, the building was originally designed as both a public house of worship and a civic meeting house in early 1800s to execute town business (such as Town Meetings and elections) before Manchester had a formal Town Hall.  This dual-purpose architecture, said Weiss, uniquely lends itself to good acoustics, public speaking and exchange.  Which makes it pretty darned good for a holiday singalong.

Handel’s Messiah, still popular more than 265 years after the composer’s death, is a large-scale “semi-dramatic” composition (that includes the ever-popular “Hallelujah Chorus,” which is included in Sunday’s performance).  It’s designed for chorus, soloists, and orchestra.  It’s huge.  And it’s grand.

It is said that Messiah was composed in a fit of inspiration by Handel in just twenty-five days (during which he never left his home, allowed no visitors, and barely stopped working to eat or sleep) and it was first performed in Ireland in 1742.  Something about the composition lent itself early to “sing-alongs,” with these large-scale group performances popping up all over Europe as early as 1748 and growing in popularity over two centuries.  

There are three parts of Messiah, and Sunday’s performance will focus on the first part, according to Weiss.  Including a ten-minute break, the event will run over an hour.

Typically, a musical performance has the music director before the orchestra and chorus with his or her back to the audience.  For this format, it’s the reverse.  Weiss will sit at the front, with the orchestra in front of him and he will face the audience.  Soloists—Holly Cameron (soprano), Rebecca Shrimpton (mezzo-soprano), Robert Cinnante (tenor), and Paul Knox (baritone)—will stand, but face each other.  In the end, everyone will be able to see each other, including the singing audience.


herman weiss, messiah, first parish congregational church in manchester, paul knox, rebecca shrimpton, holly cameron, internationally renowned composer, conductor, organist and pianist, music director, robert cinnante, first parish church, george frideric handel, cape ann symphony, hallelujah chorus