Anyone who wishes to participate in the recently reinstituted version of Handel’s Messiah, as performed by the Cumberland Oratorio Singers, just needs to show up with his sheet music and join right in ... though there is a scheduled dress rehearsal to keep you on key — singers are free to “walk on” for the Messiah portion of the program at either the dress rehearsal on Dec. 20, 10 a.m. to noon, at Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, or at the performance itself. It is assumed that anyone who is interested in performing the Messiah has done it before, therefore, rehearsal is not required.
The group has not presented the Christmas portion of Messiah for the past few years and this year marks the reinstitution of the “walk on” performance in the Fayetteville community. COS’s new director, Michael Martin, received so much positive feedback that he felt compelled to return the Christmas tradition. COS will offer a selection of holiday songs in the first half of the program: “Carol Of The Bells” — Leontovich; “Christmas Folk Song — Reese/James; “Bashana Haba’ah” — Manor/Hirsch arr. Leavitt; “Mary Had a Baby” — Dawson; “Sleigh Ride” — Parish/Anderson.
Martin, a native of Maine, is an assistant professor of music and the director of choral activities and music education at Methodist University; he brings a wealth of experience in various fields of the performing arts to the COS. Martin replaced conductor and founder Alan Porter, who led the COS for its entire 17-year existence.
“I’ve been a choral director of several community groups — different kinds,” Martin said. “I conducted a rather large choral group of 120 and I built that up from 35 while in New England. I also directed a semiprofessional group set up by audition.
“And, I conducted men’s barbershop chorus, sang for 18 years in professional barbershop quartets,” said Martin, “and had the chance to travel all over the U.S. and Europe singing with them.”
Martin sees the performance of Messiah as a way to reach out to and involve the community in the COS.
“This (the Messiah) is an open gathering and everyone is welcome,” said Martin. “It’s almost like a church service when everybody in the audience starts singing.
“So far, I think my experience with the Cumberland Oratorio Singers has gone exceedingly well,” said Martin. “People are working hard and doing a great job of recruiting singers in this transition year.”
There will be a live orchestra backing up the COS singers, as well as the audience during the performance of Messiah.
Maureen Yearby, who does marketing duties for the COS, first performed Messiah with the COS at the prompting of her husband.
“He read the ad in the newspaper and talked me into doing it (the Messiah),” said Yearby. “It was such a wonderful experience that I went back and did it the next year and I’ve been involved with the COS ever since.”