I had never sung the Messiah all the way through before, though I had sightread parts of it many years ago in my Glee Club days and had done individual choruses. I soon found that my experience was as close to singing the whole piece as catching a connecting flight in Rome’s Fiumicino Airport is to seeing Italy. If there are no other signs of the presence of a higher power, consider this: not only did Händel take the time to write this hulking monstrosity of a piece (in twenty-four days), but it’s performed every year—and people still come to hear it, though sitting through the entire performance must be exhausting even as an audience member.
I can attest that, as a performer, it’s a bit like what I imagine running a marathon must be. Pacing is key, for instance, so as not to blow out one’s voice totally before the final Amen. There are long stretches where one, exhausted, wishes for the kisses of nubile young Wellesley students—or anyone, for that matter, so that blood flow will leave the vocal chords and be restored to the feet and to the left arm, which has lost all feeling about an hour ago from holding up the score. And after the final fugue on “Amen,” a curious euphoria descends, at least if one has hit the notes correctly. It feels like entering heaven. Or just extreme relief that one has escaped the piece with vocal cords intact.
So that was Saturday. On Sunday after church I drove back out to do it again.
And we have another concert next Sunday, with music of Tavener, Górecki, and Pärt as well as some more Messiah. Can hardly wait…