The Tooele County community choir’s production of Handel’s “Messiah” is an annual tradition that has been enjoyed by multiple generations.
The choir will present Handel’s famous oratorio for the 30th time on Sunday evening at Stansbury High School, putting the spirit of the Christmas season on full display.
“It’s a wonderful gift to the community of the music and the presentation and the spirit of the season,” said Messiah performance president Betta Nash. “It’s extremely rewarding for the singers and the performers and musicians, because it’s just a glorious thing to be involved in and it really helps us feel the reason for the holiday season. It keeps us grounded and helps us really enjoy the holiday season for its real reasons.
“The music is glorious. The message is timeless. The whole experience is just very praiseworthy — and by that, I mean to the Savior, his life and his mission.”
George Frideric Handel composed the “Messiah” in 1741, with its first performance coming in April 1742 in Dublin, Ireland. It has been performed every year since. With its roots in the King James Bible and the Book of Common Prayer, it has become a popular production during the holiday season.
Richard Luckett, an early-music scholar, described the “Messiah” as “a commentary on [Jesus Christ’s] Nativity, Passion, Resurrection and Ascension.”
Elliott Clark brought Handel’s “Messiah” to Tooele County in the mid-1980s after the production had been absent from the area for a number of years.
“As I interacted with community members and checked around about various choral performances and community traditions, I realized that there probably hadn’t been a performance of Handel’s ‘Messiah’ for at least 50 years in the community,” Clark said. “I had been singing the ‘Messiah’ in solos and with choirs since I was 16 years old. I just decided that it was probably a great idea to give people the opportunity to perform that work again. It’s loved and performed all over the world, and I thought it would be a good idea for people in the Tooele community to have a chance to perform it, see it and experience it. That was really the motivation.”
Approximately 120 participants are taking part in this year’s interfaith production, including an 80-member choir and a 40-member orchestra. The group has been rehearsing each Sunday since mid-October in preparation for Sunday’s performance.
Nash said she is impressed with the quality of the performers, as well as the work of the directors.
“It’s a little bigger this year,” she said. “We haven’t always had this many. For a community volunteer event, it’s amazing – absolutely amazing. The people work so hard, and we have a really good director. Pamela Dale is absolutely amazing and helps the choir really sound professional. Aaron Curry has been preparing the orchestra, and he’s a really fine musician.
“A friend of mine said her friends came in from Utah County and said it was better than anything they’d seen in Utah County. It’s an amazing accomplishment for a local, interfaith group of people who volunteer their time.”
The sheer number of people taking part in this year’s production speaks to the amount of talent that exists in Tooele County, Nash said.
“It’s amazing, per capita, how much talent there is in Tooele County,” she said. “We have some people who been part of the ‘Messiah’ for many years, and lend their talents every year. It’s just an amazing group of people.”
In addition, a number of past participants have come back to take part in the 30th-anniversary edition, including Clark, who will give an introduction before Sunday’s performance and also will conduct the “Hallelujah” chorus.
“It’s pretty amazing, actually,” Clark said. “Once people experience it, they love it and they enjoy it. There’s something about the music that has been important to a lot of people for a lot of years. All cultures, all faiths, all societies — it’s performed all over the world now.
“I was not surprised when the people who helped me organize it the first time wanted to do it again the next year and the year after that,” he added. “I didn’t know how many years it might go, but they’ve created an annual tradition. I certainly expected that people would like it for a few years, at least. Once it gets under your skin, you want to hear it more and you want to perform it.”
Clark credited the efforts of Frank and Lucille Mohlman in helping to get the production off the ground in the early years.
“It was difficult to really put on the production in the way that it needed to be done,” Clark said. “The high schools were willing to give us the facilities, and that was a wonderful contributor to the success. I borrowed risers from a local choral organization in Salt Lake City. I printed the programs and got the advertising going and we put posters up all over the place for the first year or two. After that second year, Frank just came up to me and asked if I needed some help. He became the president of the annual ‘Messiah’ choir and orchestra, and he really, really helped with a lot of the detail and preparations.”
The Mohlmans also played a major role in purchasing a sound shell for the choir, which neither Tooele or Grantsville High School had at the time. That made for a better performance, as it greatly improved the acoustics.
Nash said it was important to bring back those who helped make the “Messiah” an annual Christmas tradition in Tooele County.
“We really put out the word that we would like anybody who had ever been involved to come back and do it again for the 30th year,” Nash said.
Sunday’s performance begins at 7:30 p.m. in the Stansbury High School auditorium. Admission is free.