A production that has been performed thousands of times around the world since the mid-1700s has also found it’s home in Tooele County. For the past 28 years, Tooele County community members — including some who have been in the program since its beginning in the county — have performed George Frederic Handel’s “Messiah” every December.
Tooele resident Dave Young, 76, has been singing in the “Messiah” production since its inception, save for one year when he decided to skip it because he felt it was too hard. That state of mind didn’t last long though, he said, as the next year he was called and asked to participate again.
“I’m a baritone, but I sing tenor — or try to,” he said. “Tenors are hard to find. After my first year I decided it was too hard and I skipped it the next year, but the tenor section leader called me and said they needed tenors the next year, so I went back and have been back ever since.”
Tooele resident Dan Martin, 63, has also been a part of “Messiah” since it’s beginning in Tooele County.
“I missed a couple of years here and there, but I’ve been in it since day one,” he said. “I’m a tenor in the program. I guess that’s part of the reason why I come back each and every year now. There are always so few tenors, and even though my voice isn’t as good as it once was, I can still get the timing down pretty good.”
Martin isn’t the only one in his family who has been a part of the production for several years. It’s been made a family affair each year as his wife, Cherie, 60, has also been in the program since it began. Cherie started out singing alto as well as tenor in the choir, but for the last six years, has played violin along with the orchestra.
Tooele resident Diana Troup, 50, has been in the “Messiah” program for 10 years. She, too, sings tenor in the production.
“I’ve been singing it all my life, and it never feels like Christmas to me without the ‘Messiah’ and the music from the ‘Messiah,’” Troup said. “It’s just a thrill to be involved with that many people doing it for the love of the music, both vocally and instrumentally.”
Young said a desire to want to sing with a large group and a full orchestra is what initially sparked his interest in the “Messiah.” He said in the early days, there were always tryouts. Now, anyone who wants to participate is welcome.
“Back then in the early days we did tryouts, but they took me anyway,” Young said. “There are different people every year. Some leave and some stay, but not many of them have been there as long as I have.”
Troup said being a part of the program is a big commitment. Rehearsals begin in October and occur weekly up until the event that takes place in mid-December. Each year, there are typically between 80 and 100 people who sing and play instruments in the show.
“We’ve got quite a diverse group that sings,” Young said. “We’ve got retired Dugway employees, fire chiefs — it’s surprising who comes.”
Young said the overall participation in the show has decreased over the last couple of decades, especially in the choir.
“Some people got burned out and some have passed away,” Young said. “Some of the kids in the program grow up and go to school or have their own kids. It ends up being us seniors carrying the load, and it’s quite a commitment.”
Even though participation has waned, Martin said the last 28 years have been a lot of fun because he’s been able to see a lot of homegrown talent throughout the county.
“It’s been amazing to see some of the talent in Tooele County,” he said. “There are some people who have wonderful gifts and are willing to share that. That’s been a real treat.”
Troup agreed, and said it seems to her that the awareness and ability of the performers gets stronger every year.
“We hope every year to gain more interest from people who feel like they’d like to be involved in it,” Troup said. “More than anything else, we’ve got lots of talent in Tooele County. It’s open to everyone who wants to sing in it.”
As time has gone on, Martin said the production has continually gotten more and more professional each year.
“When we first started out, we were all just beginners,” he said. “It has become more and more polished as time has gone on.”
Troup said when people see the production they are usually amazed.
“I feel like the public in general sees how many people sing, and see the diversity of our group and realize they have found a good thing,” she said.
Martin said some people are shocked when they hear how long some of the choir members have been involved in the production, but he said it’s not shocking to the performers at all.
“There’s a great feeling to Handel’s ‘Messiah’ and that is what sticks with all of us,” he said. “We feel that there’s a power in it and it’s good.”
Orchestra director Betta Nash said she’s not surprised that some of the most seasoned members of the production are tenors.
“The tenors almost have a separate family inside the chorus,” she said. “They all take care of each other because we don’t have a lot of tenors in the show.”
Handel’s “Messiah” will be performed Sunday, Dec. 16, at 7 p.m. in the Grantsville High School auditorium. Admission is free.