by Charissa Roberson
To usher in this Christmas season, the Roanoke College Choir will be presenting Handel’s “Messiah” at St. Andrew’s Catholic Church on Sunday at 4 pm.
“Messiah” is a 53-movement musical piece called an “oratorio,” which tells a story through the vehicle of choir, soloists, and orchestra. Written in 1741, “Messiah” follows the life of Christ, from His birth to His resurrection. The piece is a celebrated classic that is often performed around the Christian holidays of Christmas and Easter.
“The Messiah is a personal favorite of mine that I was only ever able to perform in one-song increments,” said junior Alexis Barton. “I was very excited to perform a longer version with the choir!”
The RC Choir has been preparing for Sunday’s ambitious concert for months, in between rehearsals for their other shows, such as the Family Weekend concert and Lessons & Carols. The performance of Handel’s “Messiah” marks a return to more extensive projects for the choir.
“In the Fall of 2019, the RC Choir performed ‘Pagliacci’ with Opera Roanoke,” said senior Claire McDonald. “Since then, our director Dr. Sandborg has wanted to do another large-scale collaborative piece.”
Sandborg’s vision had to be put on hold, however, with the advent of COVID-19. Since then, the RC Choir has had few opportunities to perform. Their 2021 Family Weekend concert was the first time they had sung for a live audience since the pandemic began. Now, after a trying year, their line-up is returning to some semblance of regularity.
“After a successful year of masked singing, and thanks to mass vaccination, we decided to do some more challenging pieces and more performances that would get us back to our ‘normal’ caliber and schedule,” said Barton.
Handel’s “Messiah” certainly presents a challenge for the choir to tackle. The epic piece can run for about two and a half hours! In addition, the choir is singing some of the songs in Latin, adding another layer of difficulty to the process.
However, working on such a demanding piece has brought the choir closer together and allowed them to bond over the difficulties and triumphs of preparing Handel’s oratorio. McDonald described one way that she tries to keep things light.
“One of the pieces is called ‘His Yoke Is Easy’ and I enjoyed trying to make eggs puns about his ‘yolk,’” she said.
Sunday’s performance of “Messiah” will be offered free of charge, with donations accepted for local charities. In other exciting news, Professor Marianne Sandborg will be featured as the concert’s soprano soloist! Come and experience Handel’s sweeping masterpiece, in celebration of the Christmas season, brought to life by our very own RC Choir.