Sunday’s 33rd “Messiah” community concert at Tooele High School is a tradition for Tooele Valley audiences and for local musicians and singers. For the Melanie and Nate Thomas family of Tooele, this year’s performance also marks the end of a happy saga.
Melanie Thomas, 41, and her oldest daughter, Reagan Thomas, 17, have participated in the “Messiah” orchestra for four years. This will be Reagan Thomas’ last year to participate with her family while living at home. For two other Thomas children, this will be their second year playing in Handel’s beloved 1741 oratorio and orchestral masterpiece.
Reagan Thomas plays the french horn, and plans to pursue a music major next year at either Snow College, Brigham Young University or Utah State University. Rachel Thomas, 15, a sophomore, plays clarinet, and Jenny, 14, a freshman, plays the trumpet. The three teens all attend THS.
Melanie Thomas comes from a family of musicians, which fueled her desire to continue her musical heritage while raising her own children. Each of her daughters began playing their instruments when they were 10.
Thomas, who also plays the French horn, grew up in Hyrum, Utah, in Cache Valley, where she attended Mountain Crest High School. She is the third of eight children, each of whom learned to play an instrument. In fact, all but she and one of her siblings married spouses who play an instrument.
Nate Thomas gets teased a bit by the rest of the family for this fact.
“He puts up with a lot and he’s very supportive and always an avid fan,” Melanie Thomas said of their family’s “Messiah” participation. “He’s always coming to everything and always excited for us to do it.”
Thomas got her introduction to playing “Messiah’s” score while she attended Snow College in Ephraim, Utah, in 1996. The Christmastime performance was in the nearby town of Manti, at the town’s old tabernacle. Thomas said she really enjoyed that opportunity and hoped to be able to continue playing in “Messiah” productions throughout her life.
“So, that was my introduction to ‘Messiah,’ besides the ‘Hallelujah Chorus’ that everybody knows,” she said.
As Thomas and her husband started their family, they lived in places where the communities didn’t perform “Messiah.”
“Living in Ely, we had really zero experience to participate in anything musical,” Thomas said of their nine years living in the central-eastern Nevada town.
Next, the Thomas family lived in Cedar City, where she said there was a community orchestra, but no “Messiah” performance.
“So, I was really happy when we came up here and they had this,” she said.
The Thomas family moved from Cedar City to Tooele in 2014 and they were approached by neighbors who had heard that the family played instruments. Thomas said one was the Aaron Curry family, who urged, “They’re always looking for people to be in the [‘Messiah’] orchestra, and so we decided to try it out.”
Although the Thomas family lacked in some cultural opportunities while living in rural communities, that didn’t stop Melanie Thomas from instilling a love of music in her children.
“We listened to the [‘Messiah’] music when these guys were little,” she said, “so we were familiar with it.”
Though some of the music is hard to play, youngest daughter Jenny Thomas said she does “pretty good for the most part.”
Melanie Thomas said her daughters have it a bit easier than she when it comes to practicing, since they have band class as part of their regular school curriculum. On the other hand, Thomas has to make time to practice in her busy schedule as a mother of six children.
“For me to pick it up once a year, it’s really hard to justify having a good excuse to practice,” she said. “You have to make the time a priority.”
Thomas feels it is a great experience for her daughters to play under a different conductor and to have the experience of playing in a community orchestra.
“I think it’s been good for them to have a different experience than high school band, to be able to play under a different conductor and under different circumstances,” she said.
Having a community “Messiah” production is a very special thing for Tooele Valley, Thomas said, and it is a wonderful opportunity for musicians, singers and audience to both participate in and enjoy.
“It’s just really a neat thing for the community that people are willing to volunteer their time and do this,” Thomas said.
Along with the opportunity to play beautiful and inspired music with her children and for the community, Thomas appreciates the unique opportunity she and her daughters have to rub shoulders with a variety of musicians and vocalists from unique backgrounds.
“There’s such a varied age,” she said. “It’s pretty neat to see all different ages come together, and different faiths even, coming together to participate in it.”
A lot of hard work goes into the production over the fall season. “Messiah” performers — orchestra, choir and soloists — begin rehearsals the first Sunday in October and continue each Sunday until the performance the third Sunday in December. Thomas said the group runs through all of the numbers during the first practice.
Then, for the following weeks, they practice separately, until the last three weeks when they rehearse together again.
This year’s “Messiah” performance features 60 choir and 40 orchestra members, along with 14 soloists. “Messiah” community performance president, Betta Nash, said that usually there are only four “Messiah” soloists in professional concerts — a soprano, an alto, a tenor and a bass. But because this is a community concert, the organizers want to spread around the opportunity to solo.
“I think it’s a good thing,” Nash said.
Another good thing, Nash said, is the number of participants who join “Messiah” with a family member. She said there are all kinds of combinations. There are husband and wife, parent and child, even grandparents and granddaughters.
While this may be the last local Christmas “Messiah” the Thomas women will perform, there is still the Easter “Messiah” next spring. Thomas said she and her daughters will be in that orchestra for the community’s third March 25 Easter production.
For Thomas, one of her future “Messiah” production family dreams is to have daughter Jenny play a trumpet solo. Hopefully, in the next three years, between both the Christmas and Easter “Messiah” practices, Jenny will be ready for that solo. Thomas knows all-too well how quickly those three years will fly by and, like her senior sister Reagan, Jenny will soon be moving on to college.
The concert in the high school’s auditorium is free to the public and begins at 7:30 p.m. Tooele High is located at 301 W. Vine St., Tooele.