cumberland_oratorio.jpgThe Cumberland Oratorio Singers will perform George Frideric Handel's Messiah during a free concert scheduled Dec. 12 beginning at 4 p.m. at the Holy Trinity Episcopal Church.

Michael Martin, director of Choral Activities and Music Education at Methodist University and COS artistic director, leads and conducts the 18-year-old group of approximately 70 singers based out of the Fayetteville church.

The repertoire is divided into two portions, the first of which is more seasonal than traditional Christmas music.

"It's called a Christmas concert, but we're really trying to represent more of a holiday theme. So we have a spiritual; we have a Hanukkah piece; we have some seasonal pieces associated with the holidays," Martin said. "For the second portion - which is the primary portion of the concert - we're doing the first part of Messiah. The Messiah is really an Easter piece in total, because it really follows the passion of Christ from birth to death."

Messiah is divided into three parts. The first part being the story of Christ's birth; the second part chronicling his life and death; the last part celebrates his resurrection.
"The first part works great for Christmas obviously, but the interesting thing is that the "Hallelujah Chorus" - which everybody knows (and usually hears) at Christmas time - isn't part of the first part. So we have to sing the first part and we just kind of put the "Hallelujah Chorus" in it," Martin said.

Martin hopes this and future performances will attract new performers to the group and he welcomes new singers to COS rehearsals.

"I meet every single new singer one-on-one. We do a little voice placement. We run some scales privately and I hear the person's voice," Martin said. "I really try and keep it very, very light. I don't oratorio.jpgreally envision this group as being an audition group. I would like to have this group become so large that an audition group comes from it."

Anne Knight, 84 and the eldest performer of the group, recalled her first rehearsals when she joined the group as it was being formed in 1991.

"I couldn't follow the music to save my soul," Knight remembered. "I said (to the singer beside me), ‘Tell me something. How is it that you can follow this music so easily and I'm having such a hard time?' ‘Oh Anne,' the singer replied. ‘I have a five-year degree in music. But don't be intimidated. You stay right here'"

And stay she did. Knight, along with a handful of others, has been performing with the group since its formation.

Juanita Norman, 74 and another original member, expressed what brings her back year after year and why she invites others to the performances.

 "This is something each year that brings people closer together," Norman said. "And if you don't have the Messiah, you don't have anything."

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