December adds to the Christmas spirit with the sparkling sounds of Handel’s “Messiah.” But while it’s a superb experience listening to this baroque oratorio on the life of Christ, it can be an even better one when you sing yourself. Luckily for the South Sound, there are both options this month, with professional performances in Gig Harbor and Tacoma, and the annual singalong “Messiah” in Lakewood.
“I think it has been growing,” says Anne Lyman, a director of numerous Puget Sound choral groups, who has led the sing-along “Messiah” at Christ Lutheran, Lakewood, for three years now. “We get around 200 people. Most come to sing, but some come just to listen.”
A 15-year-old tradition that began to honor the life of the first director’s husband, the sing-along now features a professional string quartet, trumpet and harpsichord, along with four soloists that you’d usually pay top dollar to hear: soprano Cyndia Sieden, mezzo Melissa Plageman, tenor James Brown and baritone Barry Johnson.
Lyman, who specializes in early music performance, has gradually incorporated musicians who play in a period style: Mary Manning and Janis Upshall on violin, John Scanlon on viola, cellist Richard Treat and harpsichordist Amy Boers. All are regulars with local professional orchestras.
What about the audience, who provide the chorus parts from the well-known “Hallelujah” to the challenging “All We Like Sheep”?
They’re pretty good too, says Lyman.
“In the beginning, we had a piano supporting the choral parts,” she explains. “But then I realized that most of those singers are very strong, and had obviously been singing “The Messiah” for a long time. So we cut the piano.”
But there are other, deeper reasons why folks come to the sing-along “Messiah” other than the fun of singing those elaborate Handel lines.
“It’s a wonderful communal space, a beautiful sanctuary,” says Lyman. “People sit … surrounding the altar and musicians. You get an intimacy that you don’t get if you just go and listen to a performance.”
Also, because entry is by donation, it’s a chance for people to experience this music without having to pay. The intermission includes coffee and cookies while the musicians play the “Pifa,” Handel’s pastoral interlude.
“It’s very meditative,” Lyman says.
Finally, it’s a social thing. Families attend, choirs from other churches go en masse.
“It’s a opportunity for amateur singers from the community to connect,” says Lyman.
When: 2 p.m. Sunday.
Where: Christ Lutheran, 8211 112th St. SW, Lakewood.
Cost: Free, donations accepted. Includes cookies and coffee.
Also: Bring a score if you have one, but there are some for use. Bring non-perishable food items for donation.
Other Messiah performances
Church of Latter-Day Saints
Who: Soloists Erin Guinup, Elizabeth Galafa, Grant Drees and Steve Danielson with orchestra and 100-member choir
When: 6:30 p.m. Sunday.
Where: Gig Harbor LDS Stake Center, 12002 Peacock Hill Ave., Gig Harbor.
Symphony Tacoma and Chorus
Who: Soloists Christina Kowalski-Holien, Melissa Plagemann, Wesley Morgan and Charles Robert Stephens.
When/Where: 7:30 p.m. Dec. 15 at Chapel Hill Presbyterian, 7700 Skansie Ave., Gig Harbor; Dec. 16 at St. Charles Borromeo, 7112 S. 12th St., Tacoma.