‘Tis not the season to talk about Handel’s oratorio Messiah. Usually, we speak of the work only in the latter two months of the year…especially December. That’s when I usually have my Bible class listen to it. For the past six years, I’ve required my Junior/Senior students to come slow their speed of life and just listen to the piece that was was first performed in Dublin (Ireland–not Georgia) on April 13, 1742.
When I was in college (or…”away at University” to sound more elitist), attending Messiah was part of the yearly ritual, and I found myself the chastener of rebellious young men who sounded off disgruntedly about the upcoming event. Usually all it took was a, “Why in the world would you complain about listening to Scripture sung?” This satisfied the basketball-inebriated roommate long enough for him to cinch his tie, hike his coat onto his shoulders and trudge on out the door toward his duty.
This school year ended with commencement on Friday night, but this past week I had my Bible students listen to Messiah as their “last hurrah” with me. I generally give a lot of prefatory remarks, including 1) “the music you are about to hear is not what you are used to in that it is not hokey, nasaly, whiny, shallow, trite, ill-conceived or nonsensical”; 2) I ask them to listen for the onomatopoeia (by observing it and being able to identify it, it will help keep them from poking fun at it); 3) similary, vibrato is not sin and it is not a sign of egocentric piety – it has more to do with a fuller range of capabilities that God has given (whether we appreciate it or not it we should learn not to be distracted by it); 4) I explain the background of the whole work and the amazing speed at which it was written; 5) I give explanation of the history of standing at the singing of the Hallelujah Chorus.
Listening to Messiah is an act of worship. It is stirring and convicting. It is God-centered thinking. To oversimplify, Messiah is the history and prophecy of the world in song form. If you have never heard Messiah, or if it has been a very long time, please consider adding it to your summer to do list. It takes between 2-3 private hours, and I would recommend reading the text as you listen. Make the time to receive the blessing.
Here is a link that gives a good background information (which I hand out to my students) and also the text of the whole work. I highly recommend you print off the pages and read along.
I don’t consider myself very literate musically and don’t play any instruments (except hambone), but I do love music, and I can carry a tune, lead congregational singing at church though I’ve never had an ounce of instruction (aren’t you supposed to just move your arms in a regular rhythmic pattern?) and have my own essential music library, but I don’t know how to read music and can’t speak music theorums or history or genres. I do though think music is a very big deal to God and try to make a big deal of it in my home. I certainly understand why the teenager of 2006 would not be impressed with the style of Handel’s work, but the Christian of any age in time must be impressed with the content.
Here is a link to my recording that we listen to in class.
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