COLLEGEVILLE >> For many people, the holidays mean celebrating traditions. At Ursinus College, that means performing Handel’s “Messiah” in its entirety. The school has produced a concert featuring this famous classical piece for the past 76 years. The tradition continues on Dec. 6 and 7.
Ursinus Music Professor John French (who also plays harpsichord) will conduct the College Choir and Meistersingers and local professional musicians and soloists who will accompany them. The performance also features some music played on the Heefner Memorial Organ, a 3,593-pipe, 62-rank, three-manual pipe organ.
“Messiah,” an English-language oratorio composed in 1741 by George Frideric Handel, is a varied and emotional piece, French said. And it’s a piece that Handel performed many times during his life.
“It was one of the most popular pieces he did,” French said.
Considering the length of the Ursinus tradition, it’s still a popular piece today. Some even consider it a holiday classic.
Ursinus senior Aaron Caffrey is happy that he gets to sing it again this year, his third time, he said. Caffrey has been singing since third or fourth grade.
“I really enjoy choral music,” he said. “It’s nice being able to come together with a group of people and make something sound so beautiful just from a piece of paper.”
He’s a tenor and likes that the piece is challenging but fun. When he arrived at Ursinus, he was already familiar with Handel’s work – growing up, his dad would play “Messiah” for him in the car as they were driving places. As a singer, he had never done a composition that was so long, he said – the book of sheet music for the piece is 215 pages.
“It’s a major work and people don’t always get to perform major work,” he said. “We get to do this every year.”
Alumna Jenn Kintner, an alto, sang with the choir while in school and kept singing after graduation. This will be the 28th year she’s participating. She joined the choir as an Ursinus freshman in 1987 and kept coming back to sing after she graduated in 1991.
She just wants to sing, she said.
“There’s a joy in the music and being able to share that with people,” she said. “I just love music. It eases the soul. It makes me happy.”
Singing this particular piece in its entirety is a wonderful tradition she’s proud to be a part of. She’s thrilled each year to be “going back and staying a part of the Ursinus family,” she said.
And this Ursinus family tradition is a thrill for French, who will conduct and perform for the 36th year.
“It’s a masterpiece,” he said. “Who wouldn’t to be able to want to turn around once a year and throw yourself into a big piece of music like that?”
If You GoHandel’s “Messiah” will be performed Saturday Dec. 6 at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday Dec. 7 at 2:30 p.m. at Ursinus College, Bomberger Auditorium, 601 E. Main St., Collegeville. Tickets are $10; $5 for students with ID. Online reservations can be made at www.ursinus.edu/tickets. Call 610-409-3030 or visit www.ursinus.edu.