If you haven’t been to a sing-along Messiah yet, it’s the time of year to warm up your vocal chords and find one. These performances are seasonal treats — unless you’re a musician, in which case they could be an occupational hazard.
But for the rest of us, there aren’t many opportunities for genuine amateurs to belt out music, in a theatre, surrounded by hundreds of people doing the same thing, backed by a professional orchestra and possibly a choir. Since Handel’s Messiah debut in 1742, it’s proven a massive hit with crowds. At some point, those crowds wanted to sing along, and a tradition was born.
“It’s a unique, musically edifying — most of the time — occasion,” says Gregory Wait, music director at Schola Cantorum Silicon Valley, which hosts its 51st annual sing-along Messiah this year. That would make it the oldest sing-along Messiah in the Bay Area.
“Everybody gets to kind of sing everything,” Wait says. “I jokingly ask attendees to attempt to sing them in the octave written, but that doesn’t always happen.”
Despite the fact that Messiah is a profoundly religious work, you don’t need to be a Christian to appreciate how fun it is to sing. As Wait says, “The music is spectacular. It has life and vibrancy and — most of the time — up tempo. I think it makes people happy.”
This upcoming sing-along Messiah will be Wait’s 29th. How has he survived so long? Low expectations. “If you’re reading a piece of music, say for the first time, I would prioritize the rhythm. Be at the right time in the right (place), you know, and the notes… they’ll come along.”
Of course, sometimes the professionals mess up, too.
(Whoever uploaded the above video graciously didn’t mention which orchestra performed it. My favorite comment: “The organist didn’t Handel that very well.”)
Are you game? Here’s a list of Bay Area Messiah sing-alongs still available.