Every year since George Frideric Handel wrote “Messiah” in 1741, in 24 days no less, it’s been performed every year around the world, sometimes by multiple groups in a single community.
“It’s an unusual thing, with a piece of music,” said Adam Peithmann, First Congregational Church music director, via phone. “But I think it really connects with people.”
First, it’s accessible; it’s in English and tells the story of Jesus Christ from birth to resurrection. The piece contains three movements and several parts that, when performed together, can span as long as two hours. Most local groups perform just a selection, and they often put the concert together with only a few rehearsals; lots of singers already know the music, so it’s just a matter of tuning up.
Where: Mont Vernon Congregational Church, 4 S. Main St., Route 13, Mont Vernon
When: Saturday, Dec. 5, at 7 p.m., and Sunday, Dec. 6, at 4 p.m.
Admission: Free-will offering; shuttles offered between the Village School parking lot and church after each performance, 420-8523
Milford High School music teacher and Souhegan Valley Chorus director Jennifer Erdody leads the way in Mont Vernon Congregational Church’s 28th Annual Messiah Sing! concert on Saturday, Dec. 5, at 7 p.m., and Sunday, Dec. 6, at 4 p.m.
It’s perhaps the biggest rendition you’ll see in New Hampshire this year, with traditional concerts consisting of 100 singers from a dozen communities.
The event started over coffee after church in 1987. Dawn Lyon, who still performs with the group, remembers it was November, because they were able to gather people together for three rehearsals before the December event.
“Originally we thought of it as an informal thing where, you know, we would try to get as many people familiar with ‘Messiah’ to dust off their old college scores and come sing with us, but as it evolved, it evolved into something more formal,” Lyon said via phone. “We started out with 70 singers, but on average, we probably have 100. We were very excited we gathered so much enthusiasm.”
Singers young and old came, and some brought family from as far as New York to join in. Lyon said the concert has become not just a big extravaganza for the church, but also a big one for the town. Women wear dark skirts with white blouses, and the men wear dark suit jackets, red ties and white shirts. There are no auditions except for the solo parts, and the singers still only meet for three rehearsals before showtime.
Though it’s a church that pulls the event together, it’s not necessarily a religious one, but rather, one that kicks off the start of the holiday season. Organists Jill Slocum and John Leslie will accompany the singers performing selections of “Messiah,” as will a small orchestra.
Lyon said she loves hearing the orchestra warming up just before the concert’s start and is amazed at how Erdody can “take a group of 100 or so singers and, by concert time, [have] their voices become beautifully harmonized.”
Where: First Congregational Church, 508 Union St., Manchester
When: Sunday, Dec. 6, at 4 p.m.
Admission: Free-will offering
The First Congregational Church in Manchester has been performing Handel’s “Messiah” at a community concert about every three years since 1981. Many singers are members of the church’s Chancel Choir, but many more come from outside the church to perform. There are no auditions, no requirements.
Accompanying the group will be a professional orchestra, soloists and the Sabbath Bells, a church handbell choir. Music includes Part 1 of “Messiah,” “Christmas Day” by Gustav Holst, “A Tapestry of Carols” and John Rutter’s “Candlelight Carol.”
Adam Peithmann became the church’s director of music ministry about a year and a half ago, and he said via phone there are about 40 singers in the choir, who meet about six times before the concert. The four soloists are local and Boston professionals.
“There’s a timeless quality to it,” Peithmann said. “This is a piece of music that inspired Mozart.” (In 1798, Mozart re-orchestrated several of Handel’s works including “Messiah” with a 12-person choir and four soloists.)
A free-will offering will be taken at the door and donated to the Santa Fund. Childcare will be offered for audience members with young kids.