Some were concerned that no one would show. Some were worried that too many people would attend. And in the end, it was standing, sitting and kneeling room only! Extra chairs were put out, and still we had people standing along the side aisles, and sitting on the floor in front of the pews. The balcony was full, as was the chapel. So many people were there that some even had to sit outside!
What was the reason for this turnout? It was the December 2 performance of Handel’s Messiah at the Episcopal Church of the Nativity in Dothan, Alabama. Part of the Fine Arts Series of concerts that Nativity hosts.
The performance featured the Nativity Choir, the Enterprise State Community College Choir, and the Nativity String Orchestra and was a continuation of the collaboration that began this past spring with the Celebration of American Music concert.
“We had a string orchestra, pipe organ and timpani that accompanied the 45 plus singers,” said Dr. Debbie Deas, the Nativity music director. “The strings are highly skilled musicians from the Tallahassee Symphony and other area symphonies such as Mobile, Pensacola and even Tampa. The soloists are equally talented who have sung opera as well as musical theater in Tallahassee and other venues.
“The organist for the concert, Dr. John Jinright, is a very accomplished professor of music from Troy University and has accompanied us for several years,” added Deas.
For the past few years, Nativity has presented the traditional service of Lessons and Carols as a way to start the Advent season. This year, however, the decision was made to perform Messiah in lieu of Lessons & Carols.
“The traditional Lessons and Carols will always have a place at Nativity,” said Deas. “However, the Advent/Christmas Portion (Part One) of Messiah tells the same story with the same scriptural references from Isaiah, Malachi, Matthew, Luke and Zechariah. “The theme of Part One is the prophesy and realization of God's plan to redeem mankind by the coming of the Messiah,” she continued. “The concert ends with Handel's best known piece, the Hallelujah Chorus, which is from Revelation.”
Dr. Ken Thomas, chair of the Fine Arts Division and choral director at the Enterprise College was also instrumental in making this performance happen. “Several of our students sang with the Nativity Choir in 2016-2017 year,” said Thomas. “Debbie Deas and I then spoke about collaborating on the Nativity Fine Arts Series with the American Music Concert in May of 2018. This collaboration continues with the performance of Messiah.”
To understand the caliber of music presented at Nativity consider this: At the end of the concert, a recording of the Hallelujah Chorus was made and posted it to the Nativity Facebook page. About 45 minutes later, we received a notification from Facebook saying “We have muted the recording recently posted due to copyright issues. Please confirm you have the right to post this video.” Upon further investigation, it turns out Facebook thought we had posted a video/audio recording of the London Philharmonic’s performance!
The public seemed to enjoy the performance as well. The response from those in attendance was nothing but praise.
“I had chills listening,” said Katie Nelsen. “What amazing talent.”
Matt Howell, a local businessman, said, “Such a great evening. Thanks for making Dothan special.”
We even received feedback from those who had to sit outside. Many said it was a beautiful experience listening to the outstanding music while the light shone through Nativity’s stained-glass windows.
“I would like to thank everyone at Nativity that assisted with the performance,” said Deas. “We had hospitality, ushers, shepherds, PR and flower guild working hard on the concert. I am very grateful to all of them, as well as members of the vestry for the tremendous support we received. “I consider the Fine Arts Series one of the best ways to offer outreach to the community and showcase our church,” she said.
And what is next for the combined choir? They have been invited to perform at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., in March 2019.