The members of the Cumberland Oratorio Singers are passionate about chorale music. They are passionate about the community, too. Each year the organization performs several concerts, many of them in partnership with other organizations. While Director of Choral Activities and Music Education at Methodist University Dr. Michael Martin does an outstanding job of bringing a variety of chorale productions to the community, the one that does not change from year to year is the December performance of the “Hallelujah Chorus.” This year, the performance is set for Dec. 13 at St. Ann Catholic Church.
“We are performing the first section of Handel’s ‘Messiah’ for the concert. Specifically, it is called ‘Part the First,’ which deals primarily with the birth of Christ,” said Martin. “This is why this first part is so popular during the holiday season, although some places do the entire ‘Messiah’ work. The chorus of ‘Hallelujah’ is actually borrowed from ‘Part the Second,’ yet we include it as it is a traditional part of the Christmas holiday season.”
Not only is this annual performance of “Messiah” a gift to the community, it is one of the many ways that the members of The Cumberland Oratorio Singers reach out to fellow singers and musicians, and people in the area who appreciate music.
“What I most enjoy about this performance is the community aspect of it all,” said Martin. “We hire a professional orchestra and we hire professional soloists. However, our chorus is made up of ‘volunteer’ professionals, if you will, that come from every corner of our community. This event also invites people who would otherwise not have the opportunity to sing this piece, and maybe haven’t since college, to perform it with us. These types of presentations of ‘Messiah’ are quite popular during the holidays, so it is not unique to Fayetteville. The best part of this event is about building our sense of community; it always will be.”
If people would like to participate, they are welcome to attend the last Monday rehearsals with the orchestra on Dec. 1 at Highland Presbyterian Church and Dec. 8 at St. Ann Church. All rehearsals are from 7-9 p.m. Participants need to supply their own music. If making the practice is not an option, people are still welcome to perform. On the night of the concert, anyone wishing to perform needs to tell the greeters that they would like to sing along and they will be directed to areas where they can stand and sit without disrupting the experience of those who have come just to listen. There is no special dress for the concert.
One of the ways that The Cumberland Oratorio Singers keeps performances fresh is by featuring different soloists. This year, Jeffrey Jones, who is on the faculty of Coastal Carolina University in South Carolina, is the bass soloist. Anne Rogers, music director at St. Patrick’s Church, will sing the soprano solo. Brenda Vandervort (mezzo soprano) and Melvin Ezzel (tenor) have performed with the group before and continue to be an asset to the organization.
Unlike many other pieces, during “Messiah”, the audience stands for the chorus. “I think audiences always wonder why people stand for the chorus of ‘Hallelujah.’ Theories abound, the most common being that King George II, attending the London premiere of ‘Messiah’ in March of 1743, was so moved by the ‘Hallelujah’ that he stood up,” said Martin. “If the king stands, everybody stands. The only problem is that there is no evidence that he was even at the concert; newspapers and eyewitnesses do not report any royal presence. People are welcome to survey the myriad of research out there as to all the speculation. However, I think it is a great tradition and, if anything, draws the whole audience and participants in at the end of a long performance.”
The performance is set for 7:30 p.m. For more information, visit www.singwithcos.org.
Photo: One of the sounds of the season in Cumberland County is the annual presentation of Handel’s “Messiah” by the Cumberland Oratorio Singers. As in years past, community members are in-vited to join the group on Dec. 13 and sing along.