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Messiah binds community, makes new memories

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Each year since 1881, Augustana students and faculty have joined the Quad Cities’ Handel Oratorio Society to carry on a very special Christmas tradition, the singing of G.F. Handel’s Messiah. This year’s choir and newly formed Handel Oratorio Society Chamber Orchestra will perform Messiah in mid-December at Centennial Hall.

Dr. Jon Hurty, director of the Augustana choir and the Handel Oratorio Society, says that the music is just as meaningful today as it was 129 years ago when it was first performed in the Quad Cities. “It is an enduring story because it follows the prophecy, birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Handel's music is filled with glorious arias, choruses and instrumental sections that have become familiar and beloved by listeners.”

One of the most distinctive aspects of the Handel Oratorio Society’s performance is the variety of people it brings together. The Oratorio Society has more than 200 members, including Quad City singers and Augustana professors, students, alumni and staff members. The performance also will include a 37-member professional orchestra and four professional soloists.

Christmas events

Messiah: 8 p.m. Dec. 12 and 2 p.m. Dec. 13, Centennial Hall.

Little Thieves of Bethlehem by Opera @ Augustana: 8 p.m. Nov. 20-22 in Wallenberg Hall inside Denkmann Memorial Hall.

Christmas at Augustana holiday concert with choir, band and orchestra: 8 p.m. Dec. 4 and 4 p.m. Dec. 5, Centennial Hall.

Lessons and Carols with the Augustana Chamber Singers and Office of Campus Ministries, 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. Dec. 17, Ascension Chapel in Founders Hall. This event is free.

Tickets: buy online or call (309) 794-7306.

Katie Alms, a junior English and music double major, has been singing in the Messiah since her first year at Augustana. Although Alms is a member of Cantilena Augustana and takes organ and piano lessons, she appreciates being in an ensemble that is multi-generational. "Many of the members of the Handel Oratorio Society have been singing the Messiah for a decade or more. Listening to them is an eye-opening experience; their talent definitely helps bring my singing to a higher level."

Augustana religion professor Dr. Dan Lee is one member of Messiah with this level of experience. Lee has participated in the Handel Oratorio Society for the past 12 years. Aside from allowing him to sing, the Messiah gives him a connection with his students outside of the classroom that he enjoys. “It makes singing in Messiah very special for me,” he says.

Augustana alumna Rhodia Anderson also sees Messiah as a meaningful opportunity to interact with the Augustana community. Anderson began singing with the Handel Oratorio Society when she was a student in 1956. She loves having a reason to stay connected with a new generation of singers. “God’s been very good to me, so I can keep singing here,” she says. “It’s all very meaningful. And it’s fun, too!”

Soloists with Quad Cities ties

This year’s performance is also noteworthy because two of the professional soloists, baritone Mark Walters and tenor Brent Wilson have ties to the Quad-City area.

Walters is a returning contributor to Messiah and will be joined by his mother, Ruth Ann, who also sings with the Oratorio Society. The Walters family lives in Bettendorf.

Wilson, a ’01 alumnus and current Augustana professor, participated in the Messiah all four years that he was a student at Augustana. Now, he is excited to perform with the Handel Oratorio Society for the first time since graduating. “Many of my current students and former professors will be participating in these performances, and it will be a great treat to share the stage with them,” he says.

Wilson, who has sung the Messiah in numerous venues around the nation, also speaks to the piece’s timelessness. “The Messiah is a piece that gets born again every time you hear it. Every time I'm sitting up front listening to another soloist, the choir, or the orchestra, I hear something I've never heard before. That's what keeps the piece alive for me.”

If you would like to experience this Augustana tradition for yourself, tickets are available online at www.augustana.edu/tickets or by calling the ticket office at (309) 794-7306. The performances are Saturday, Dec. 12, at 8 p.m. and Sunday, Dec. 13, at 2 p.m. in Centennial Hall.

Messiah is one of four holiday events during The Celebration of Christmas at Augustana. Opera@Augustana will perform Little Thieves of Bethlehem in Wallenberg Hall from Friday, Nov. 20 through Sunday, Nov. 22 at 8 p.m. in Wallenberg Hall at Denkmann Memorial Hall, 3520 7th Ave.

Christmas at Augustana features performances by Augustana’s premier choir, brass and orchestra for the second annual Christmas at Augustana holiday concert on Friday, Dec. 4, at 8 p.m. and Saturday, Dec. 5, at 4 p.m. The public event also will be held in Centennial Hall.

And finally, the Augustana Chamber Singers and Office of Campus Ministries will present Lessons and Carols on Thursday, Dec. 17, at 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. This beautiful Christmas service chronicles Christ’s birth through song and readings in Ascension Chapel in Founders Hall, 820 38th St. This event is free.