While not everyone celebrates its religious origins, we all experience Christmas — there’s no getting around it.
For Christians, the birth of Jesus represents God’s redeeming light being brought into a world infected with sin and despair. They proclaim their assurance of eternal life beyond this realm.
It’s no surprise that Christmas has been secularized to a great extent, particularly in the United States. The broad themes of this season are charity, peace and joy. This has expanded its appeal to people of virtually all religious faiths or no religious faith at all.
This is what makes Christmas so remarkable. Like Easter, it’s based solely on faith in the truthfulness of an ancient story. But unlike Easter, it has eclipsed its doctrinal confines to be embraced by those who revere it as a holy day and the rest of us who celebrate it purely as a holiday.
People from many diverse cultures have incorporated their customs into their Christmas celebrations. Continuing the traditions of previous generations helps them honor their ancestors and promote their heritage.
One of the most common ways of celebrating special moments (aside from preparing — and eating — a variety of food items) is music. All cultures have their distinct music, and people use it to express themselves in a manner appropriate for the occasion.
Of course, Christmas wouldn’t be so joyous without all the extraordinary music that has been created for it. There are so many cherished songs, it can be difficult to name a single favorite.
Christmas music invokes fond memories of good times shared with loved ones. It highlights the religious nature of this holiday for Christians, and it reinforces the noblest ideals of the season that we strive to uphold.
One of the best loved musical compositions at Christmastime is “Messiah” by George Frideric Handel, who died 260 years ago. While this oratorio can be offered at any time, it’s become a staple of this part of the year.
The Sackets Harbor Vocal Arts Ensemble performed “Messiah” Dec. 22 at Trinity Episcopal Church in Watertown. Kyle P. Ramey is our music director and serves as the church’s organist and choirmaster.
He wanted to present something truly special to mark the 100th performance of the Trinity Concert Series, which he founded in 2006. And true to form, he made sure we all delivered on this pledge.
We sang the entire “Messiah” score, which runs about three hours. Handel wrote alternative versions to some of the movements in his masterpiece, and Ramey included a few of them in the concert. It’s likely that many audience members had never heard them before.
“Messiah” was very familiar to all of us in the choir. Rather than spending time in our rehearsals learning a new composition, we focused on fine-tuning the nuances that Ramey wanted to bring out in individual pieces.
And it all came together that Sunday afternoon. It was a transcendent experience for everyone involved.
Concertmaster John R. Lindsey and the rest of the orchestra were phenomenal. And the soloists — tenor Jonathan English, soprano Laura Enslin, baritone John Tibbetts and mezzo-soprano Ivy Walz — outdid themselves. At the risk of bragging, I’ll add that those of us in the choir didn’t sound too shabby either!
Football coaching legend Vince Lombardi told members of his team that they would relentlessly pursue perfection even though they all knew they’d never reach it. But in chasing perfection, players would achieve excellence.
We’re fortunate to have seen this come to fruition among the choral and orchestral groups in Northern New York. There is a commitment to the highest standards of performance, and it’s a pleasure to hear the results.
This is one of the blessings of the Trinity Concert Series. Thanks to Ramey and everyone else responsible for organizing each event, music lovers in the north country can attend exceptional performances. Those of us in the choir are proud to contribute to the series’ success.
Whether you accept the Christmas story as a historical account of Jesus’s birth or a beloved myth that conveys worthwhile lessons, this holiday has tremendous value. Music enhances this by linking us to our cultural past and reflecting virtues essential to human interaction.
In some way, we helped people grasp a deeper meaning of the season with our performance of “Messiah” — as all good Christmas music does when presented well. This is a beautifully written composition, and it was a real privilege to be a part of this wonderful event.
Jerry Moore is the editorial page editor for the Watertown Daily Times. Readers may call him at 315-661-2369 or send emails to firstname.lastname@example.org.