Looking Back: Hallelujah!

Jefferson County Historical Society submitted the following article:

[Pictured above: For more than a decade, singers from the region joined to sing Handel’s Messiah under the direction of Sara Maude Henry (front row, third from right).]

Submitted by Carole Briggs:


When I lived in Pittsburgh many years ago, it was always a treat to attend the Christmas performance of Handel’s Messiah, so several years ago when a fellow choir member suggested participating in the Messiah Sing-Along, I jumped on the opportunity.

We drove to Pittsburgh on a Saturday afternoon and participated in the grand event held in Heinz Hall. What a thrill to be among the hundreds of singers from western Pennsylvania who were there with music in hand.

Singers from Pittsburgh’s Mendelsohn Choir were scattered among us, so we wouldn’t go too far astray!

When Handel wrote Messiah (and it is correctly titled Messiah, not The Messiah) in 1741, he intended it to be modest with a small orchestra and soloists. Filling a space as large as Heinz Hall with singers was not what he envisioned.

Thus, it was appropriate in 1958 for a chorus of 35 to perform Messiah in Brookville and to continue performing it each Christmas season for at least the next ten years.

Director Sara Maude Henry assumed the leadership of the choir at the Presbyterian Church of Brookville in 1946. Twelve years later, using that choir as a nucleus, she invited others to sing in a community chorus to perform Handel’s Christmas Messiah on Sunday afternoon at 4:00 p.m. just prior to Christmas. A local newspaper writer claimed it would be the “highlight of the holiday services.”

The great oratorio consists of three parts and takes 2 1/2 hours to perform the entire score. What is considered the Christmas Messiah is much of part one plus the “Hallelujah Chorus” from part two. The other parts are often sung during Lent and individual arias and choruses are often sung throughout the year.

For the first performance in Brookville, Sara Maude Henry selected sixteen numbers from the first and second sections. Singers from out-of-town included Mr. and Mrs. Edward C. Carrier, Mrs. Donald Moore of Summerville, James McLaughlin and Ronald Henry from Clarion State Teachers College, and Martha McLaughlin and Nancy Tompkins from Brockway.

If you have the opportunity to attend a performance of Handel’s Messiah this holiday season, do so. It will be a highlight of your holiday.

[email protected] County Historical Society, Inc.

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