News / USA

'Messiah' Holiday Tradition Marks 44th Year

New York's all-inclusive sing-in mixes pros with everyone else

This year’s "Messiah Sing-In" at Lincoln Center was attended by nearly 2,000 people.
This year’s "Messiah Sing-In" at Lincoln Center was attended by nearly 2,000 people.



The holidays are here, and with them, a crescendo of special music reserved for this season.

But along with “Jingle Bells,” “Silent Night” and “Santa Baby,” towers the “Messiah.” Eighteenth century composer George Frederick Handel penned the two-hour choral masterpiece in just under three weeks.

It is performed all around the country, by church, school and community choirs.

In many cases, the audience is invited to sing along. At the 44th annual "Messiah Sing-In” in New York, nearly 2,000 people gathered to sing with professional soloists in a marathon celebration of community and the Christmas spirit.

Lincoln Center’s vast and glittering Avery Fisher Hall is filled nearly to capacity every year for the sing-in.  Accompanied only by an organ, music lovers join their voices with high school and community choruses to bring Handel’s “Messiah” to life.

Each of the 17 chorus sections is conducted by a different well-known conductor, and the solos are sung by well-known professionals. But National Chorale Music Director Martin Josman, who created the first sing-in in 1967 and acts as the evening’s emcee, says that the audience is the true star.  

“The emphasis is on the public that sings," he says. "There are no auditions; there are no rehearsals; there are no requirements for coming to the sing-in. You have to buy your tickets so we can pay the rent. Besides, that, anybody who wants to come can come.”

And come they have, for 44 years. Bruce and Scott Van Hoven have attended the Messiah Sing-Ins regularly for a quarter century.

Most of the "Messiah Sing-In" participants bring their own scores.
Most of the "Messiah Sing-In" participants bring their own scores.

"It’s the greatest piece of choral music ever written and I’ve been doing this since I was 14," says Bruce. "And it’s kind of a family tradition. My grandfather performed in a local production of the Messiah for years, so I am just carrying that on a little bit. We always try to bring some other people for their first time."

"And it just keeps growing and growing every year," Scott says. "It’s a great way to really get the Christmas season going.

Nancy Reid is a sing-In first-timer. She is here with her husband and two friends, both choristers, who told them about the sing-in’s magic. She wants to relive the thrill she felt as a child in Ohio when her parents’ friends invited local musicians and neighbors to their home to sing selections from the Messiah’s choral movements.          

“And we would sing and sing and sing," Reid says. "I don’t read a line of music but I’ve got these melodies emblazoned on my memory from when I was a kid. So we went immediately out and bought a couple of scores for ourselves and we were just saying ‘God help the people in front of us’ because we have very loud voices.”

In other cities that host "Messiah" sing-alongs, the singers are arranged around the venue according to their vocal parts. But Josman says New Yorkers prefer to sing with the people they came with or what they call "scrambled” in choral jargon. That’s good he says, because the sing-in is not a performance, but a community celebration.      

“And people who make music very quickly get to feel at home with others who are in the process," he says. "Whether they be vocalists or instrumentalists, there is a kinship of sharing the musical experience. And also we say, ‘We are in this marvelous hall. Let’s fill this place with glorious sound.’ And we do.”

Well, the truth is, not all the sound is glorious. But that doesn’t bother the professionals.

"I’m someone who believes that if someone goes in and they sing with passion and they really enjoy what they’re doing, music will follow," says professional baritone solist James Bobick. "Everybody is there because they love The Messiah as much as we do and it’s a wonderful opportunity for us to share this love of an incredible work. It’s this unique energy."

"Yeah, yeah, yeah, "Messiah" brings that joy every Christmas," soprano Zulimar Lopez-Hernandez says.  

Eyes that have been bright for the two hours of near continuous singing tonight manage to light up even more as the organ introduces the “Halleluiah Chorus,” and for the 44th year in a row, the  sing-in singers give the Messiah’s popular climax everything they’ve got.

“Halleluiah” means “praise Him” in ancient Aramaic, but today, it translates into hope and joy in any language.

You May Like

Afghanistan, Pakistan Leaders to Hold Icebreaking Talks in Paris

Two sides are expected to discuss ways to ease bilateral tensions and jointly work for resumption of stalled peace talks between Afghan government and Taliban officials

Corruption Busting Is Her Game

South African activist is building 'international online community of thousands of corruption fighters'

Former SAF Businessman Gives Books, Love of Reading to Students

Steve Tsakaris now involved in nonprofit Read to Rise, which distributes books in Soweto, encourages lower-grade primary school students to read

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continuesi
Ayesha Tanzeem
November 25, 2015 10:46 PM
One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continues

One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs