The 86th Performance of Messiah
2 months before the performance:
The Greenville College Choir, Greenville College Chorale, and members of the Greenville community gather as the Greenville Choral Union on Tuesday nights at 7:30pm to begin learning Part One of Handel’s Messiah and Vivaldi’s Gloria. We are joined for select rehearsals by the Kaskaskia College Choir.
At the very beginning, rehearsals consists of lots of “sectional” practice where each voice part – Sopranos and Altos for the women and Tenors and Basses for the men – practice their part separate from the rest of the choir. This helps with learning pitches, solidifying everyone’s part, learning entrances, and becoming more familiar with the music.
As we became more familiar with the pieces, we begin having full choir rehearsals more frequently and spend less time in sectionals. This helps with learning cues for entrances, learning to listen to each other so we can blend, and working on details within the music such as dynamics (how loud or soft to sing each part), rhythms, and where to breathe.
2 weeks before the performance:
The Greenville College Orchestra joins the Greenville Choral Union for Tuesday night rehearsals to begin putting all of the musical pieces together. The orchestra learns what cues to watch for, what rhythms to watch out for, and what voicings to emphasize. The choir learns what orchestral cues to listen for, how to balance to the orchestra in terms of volume, and to watch Doc Wilson closely for the tempo so everyone was performing together rather than slightly offset. All of this works together to ensure a cohesive performance.
1 week before the performance:
The entire ensemble gathers for multiple two-hour rehearsals throughout the week to make sure everything is pulled together and work out any remaining issues within the music.
1 day before the performance:
The entire ensemble gathers for a three-hour dress rehearsal to run through everything that will happen in the actual performance. Rather than just working on songs sung by the entire choir, we also run through the orchestra introduction and interlude as well as hearing the soloists for the first time. Some pieces are run one time, others require several passes to make sure everything is ready for the performance.
The day of the performance:
The entire ensemble gathers an hour and a half before the performance to warm up, briefly run through parts of each song, and pray together.
After what sometimes seem like endless, tedious rehearsals, the time for the performance finally arrives. Just like athletes before a big game, I always feel a shot of adrenaline as the music begins and we open with a Christmas carol, joined by the room packed with people. Where sometimes the rehearsals seemed to drag, the actual performance is another story entirely. As each soloist performs and the choir stands to sing pieces we have rehearsed for months – or for some members, years and even decades – the music almost seems new and filled with energy. When the audience stands for the Hallelujah Chorus, when they applaud thunderously at the end of each performance, there is something incredible about being up on stage, knowing that all of the work of everyone around you has made such an impact on everyone who came to listen.
All in all, the annual performance of Handel’s Messiah is one of the best parts about joining the Greenville College Choir. If you’re looking to get involved, consider auditioning for next year’s ensemble! If you missed this year’s performance, make sure to put next year’s performance on your calendar once it’s announced.