By Christopher Cudworth
My alma mater Luther College is a great music school. Each December there was a giant production of Handel’s Messiah held in the gymnasium. Hundreds of students would sign up to participate in the choir. Earning the right to be a soloist was a big deal.
I never participated because Messiah rehearsals began well before the fall cross country season ended. That meant there was never any time or energy (perhaps) to participate in the Messiah. Plus I have always been an average singer at best.
Later in life as participant in an adult choir at church, we produced a mini-Messiah as a Christmas Contata. Then I got a dose of what it’s like to sing that music. It’s hard. It took weeks to get my singing lungs in shape. My diaphragm grew exhausted from all that singing.
During the second performance (yes, we did it twice…) I felt the energy go right out of me toward the end. No longer could I manage those runs. It was only possible to sing a few words. Had there been a personal mic on me the audience would have heard an occasional “Wonderful…” and that would have been it. I had hit the Messiah Wall. Bonked according to musical terms. Finito. DNF. Sitting on the curb with a bottle of water tired.
For he shall run for ever and ever…
The similarities between training for a distance race and training to sing the Messiah were striking. It’s all about the breathing. Through countless rehearsals I felt my singing strength increase. Yet on performance day as we raced through that contata I could feel that I was out of my league.
There’s no shame in that of course. It’s an amazing thing to be part of a choir. One grows to admire those around you. Harmonies and solos and trading song parts are all part of the experience.
It’s much like being part of a running team. Everyone has to do their solo part and at the same time pay attention to how everyone else is doing. Miss a beat or miss a step. It’s much the same.
My children are coming home for Christmas and one of the things we’ll do is put on The Messiah CD that my late wife once played during preparations for the holidays. It was her soundtrack for Christmas. All that preparation and cooking and baking and wrapping was done to that music. I feel meager in my preparations by comparison. I still need to go buy a Christmas tree today…
But my family is also reformulating and helps with all this. My sister-in-law and brother-in-law, my mother-in-law and my children and I have all grown closer that past 15 months. My girlfriend Sue now joins our family gatherings and no one feels the need to neglect the memory of my late wife in the process. Life goes on and we’re making the best of it.
It seems so long ago that I last sang in the Messiah. In fact it was probably the early 1990s. time flies when you’re breathing I guess. The trick is to appreciate the wonderful gifts and experiences we encounter along the way. That’s what the Messiah came to call us to do.
Mighty Counselor. Indeed.