Hallelujah for the holidays!

MessiahThe annual Dunter House Messiah Sing brings home the joy of the season and the importance of community. 

By Gareth Anderson '19

I am on my way home from another amazing semester at Harvard, in a car bound from Boston to Montreal, and then onwards to my little village in Ontario. There is always a certain beauty and excitement when one makes the journey home for the holidays. After a long and arduous semester (not to mention a busy exam season), returning home to be surrounded by family and friends, with the smell of a spruce tree filling the house and an egg nog in hand, I always look forward to this moment.

But, my holiday celebrations did not begin today. Throughout the past few weeks at Harvard, I have been allowing myself to escape the hustle-and-bustle of reading period and get

Students enjoy performing the "Messiah" at Dunster House.
into the holiday spirit. With winter-themed study breaks and socials, not to mention the snow fall, the stress of exams has slowly been replaced by a yearning for merriment and joy.

Much of that joy was found at the annual Dunster House Messiah Sing, which I had the pleasure of attending before I left campus. The performance – which was a musical experience unlike anything I have ever seen – was the 46th incarnation of Handel’s Messiah that Dunster House has hosted, performed by Harvard students (playing in the orchestra, and performing as soloists) and conducted by Edward Elwyn Jones, organist and choirmaster at Memorial Church.

Perhaps the most captivating part of the performance was the level of participation it required of its audience: I arrived and was not only given a program, but also the entire score of the Messiah. When it was time for And the Glory of the Lord ­– the first song in the Messiah written for the entire chorus section – the whole audience stood up, singing all parts (soprano, alto, tenor and bass) in perfect harmony.

I was blown away.

Suddenly, I had become part of the Messiah, immersed in its body of sound and harmony, the audience members on both my sides singing their parts in impeccable tune. The solos of the piece were performed by an amazingly by sopranos Lily An and Nivi Ravi, alto Benjamin Wenzelberg, tenor Ethan Craigo and bass Chanslor Gallenstein.

The Messiah Sing was performed in Dunster’s dining hall, amid dark mahogany walls decorated with holiday decorations, a Christmas tree and Santa hats worn by some members of the orchestra. The scene added more coziness and holiday cheer to the already unique performance.

Handel would have been proud. I sure was.

The Messiah has always been a part of my holiday tradition, and I was glad that I could continue it at Harvard. In the little town that I am from, a rendition of the Messiah is

Edward Elwyn Jones conducts Benjamin Wenzelberg '21 in the "Messiah" at Dunster House.
performed by members of the community every other year, and seeing it has become a family tradition (not to mention that my own talented grandparents sing in the chorus). The Messiah and its history are also fascinating. In 1741, Handel composed the oratorio within 24 days (sounds like a Harvard student’s schedule!). The libretto is based on biblical texts, and the piece was premiered in Dublin the following year.

The piece is one of the most festive in the classical music canon, probably due to its themes and the Messiah’s premier perpetuated its festiveness: The proceeds of it were devoted to the relief of prisoners and other charities, and isn’t giving to others such an important part of this holiday season?

I also love the Messiah because it is a piece for the community. It encourages audience interaction, with one another and with the score. In fact, the most popular tradition of the Messiah it that everyone stands during the singing of the Hallelujah Chorus (I’m sure you’ve heard it!), something that Queen Victoria made popular during her reign. At Dunster, the audience stood as one and sang the famously beautiful tune.

So, as I head home, I’m reflecting on this past semester, and all of its ups and downs, and its exciting moments. But seeing such a powerful performance put on by members of the very community that I have so fortunately become a part of these past few years, I was reminded to always take time, especially during the holidays, to spend with others, to share in the love of community, to celebrate the holidays and to be merry.

Happy Holidays!