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‘Messiah experience’ open to all

Singalong offers unique opportunity for people to enjoy timeless classic

A different kind of concert is being offered locally to begin the holiday season.

The music is the familiar G.F. Handel’s “Messiah,” but the members of the audience will hear their own voices ring out as they sing the “Hallelujah” and other choruses from the Christmas portion of the three-part oratorio.

The Academy of Sacred Music will present a Messiah singalong from 2 to 3 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 1, at the First Presbyterian Church, 601 Walnut St., Hollidaysburg. An offering will be received at the door.

Bob Long, founder of the academy and director of music ministries at Cor­pus Christi Parish in Chatham, New Jersey, will conduct.

Although attendees are not required to sing, the academy is encouraging members of choirs and choral groups to bring their Schirmer or Watkins Shaw scores and support the concert. Among them are Altoona Area and Hollidaysburg Area High School choruses, the Blair Concert Choir, the Hollidaysburg Community Choir and several church choirs. Long does not know who will show up, but any one who wants to be part of the event is invited. A few scores will be available for participants to borrow.

According to Chris Ringcamp, president of The Academy of Sacred Music board, response has been favorable.

“I am pleasantly surprised to learn that we have more than 100 individuals who have indicated their interest in our ‘Messiah’ experience through social media,” he said.

Along with audience participation, the concert will feature four soloists: Julie Hanlon, soprano; Jan Wilson, mezzo-soprano; Richard Kennedy, tenor; and James White, bass-baritone. Asa Carns will provide accompaniment on the organ.

Hanlon has been singing in “Messiah” concerts since college.

Hamlon was a “Messiah” soloist for the first time in 1998 while pursuing a master’s degree in Florida and since then has taken on the soprano role at concerts in Penn­sylvania as well as New York and New Jersey.

Locally, she leads the praise band at Hicks United Methodist Church in Duncansville and the contemporary choir at St. Michael Catholic Church in Hollidaysburg. She is also founder and director of the trio, 3 Four One.

“Handel created some of the most wonderful melodies and harmonies in this famous oratorio,” she said in an email.

White has been a soloist for a variety of programs in Centre and Blair counties, including the State College Choral Society. Altoona area residents may be familiar with his contributions to the Bach Lenten Luncheons organized by Carns.

He, too, had his first “Messiah” solo performance as a graduate student while attending school in Fort Worth, Texas.

Although this is his first “Messiah” singalong, White has been a bass soloist at numerous concerts featuring Handel’s famous work, including with the Pennsylvania Consort in Bedford.

“I am always in awe of the music of Handel and how this work intersects with biblical studies in the early 1700s through our own time,” White said in an email.

He said he believes “Messiah” is popular at Christmas because of the perception of prophecy and fulfillment as the Scripture unveils the promised Messiah supported by music in an older style that sounds new.

Wilson is executive director of the international Conductors Guild, based in Virginia. Her performances with symphony orchestras include Pittsburgh, Syracuse and Roanoke. She has been a soloist in numerous venues including at St. Patrick’s Cathedral and with St. Cecilia Chorus and Orchestra in New York. Originally from the area, she previously served as executive director for the Altoona Symphony Orchestra.

Kennedy is retired from the School of Music at Penn State University. He is an international soloist who has performed with the Boston Symphony, the American Chamber Orchestra in Washington, D.C., and numerous choral groups. He has given recitals at Carnegie Recital Hall, the National Arts Club in New York as well as venues in England, Germany, Austria and Italy.

“It’s fun, exciting and a little scary,” Long said about the upcoming sing-along. In the past, he has been a tenor soloist for a “Messiah” sing-along in State College and conducted a movement at Avery Fisher Hall (David Geffen Hall) at Lincoln Center in New York.

Hanlon said, “The sing-along is even better (than a regular concert) because the entire audience gets to participate in the singing of the choruses. It’s an interactive and immersive experience for everyone.”

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