Composed in 1742, Handel’s Messiah has become a cultural fixture of the Christmas season. When I heard that some of my family planned to see the Vancouver Chamber Choir & Symphony Orchestra’s performance of it I recognized the name but didn’t know exactly what it was. I knew it was a classic that I wanted to experience for myself so I jumped at the chance to do so.
Image: Tourism Vancouver, Orpheum Theatre
The performance was at the Orpheum Theatre on Granville Street. This was my first time inside the Orpheum so I just need to briefly gush about the iconic building. The red and gold fixtures and the mural on the vaulted ceiling make it difficult to imagine this was ever a movie theatre, but the old photos on the walls are both proof and nostalgic reminders for visitors like my Mom, who remembers seeing movies there when she was young.
The baroque epic is composed of bouncing vocal rounds interspersed with soloists reciting what are almost comically repetitive choruses. You get the sense that they really want to make sure you now what they are talking about. Except for the soprano who sang in a pitch so high that what she sang couldn’t compete with how she sang it. Handel’s own habit of customizing the lyrics for each performance has become a part of the living tradition. While a live musical performance is always unique, it is not always intentionally so. I love the idea of a composition that was written over 250 years ago with the intention of performing it differently for each occasion. It makes the occasion more exciting for the audience, and the performers.
Handel was super rich. He still ranks in the top 5 richest classical composers. Messiah is just part of what made him so plentiful of resources. Handel is credited as being the first to write English language oratorios. An oratorio is a sort of no frills no gimmicks opera that cut out all the typical expenses that made Operas so unprofitable, such as costumes, sets, and star performers. Mostly unknown performers on a simple stage created a vocal symphony so compelling that record-breaking audiences have attended since the first performance.
The ease and low cost of staging the show combined with the incredible popularity with audiences made Messiah the most profitable performance of it’s time and it remains one of the most performed pieces in the world to this day. This was a great opportunity to get out and enjoy one of the city’s best venues and one of the world’s most popular pieces of music and, to top it off, the tickets were only about $30. Halleluia!
Thanksgiving traditions are treasured. Thinking back though, I realize that it has been a very long time since I had a traditional Thanksgiving. Hearing people discuss their plans for the upcoming weekend of feasts had me feeling a bit dejected for the past few weeks. If you share this circumstance or have occasionally caught your lower lip jutting out towards self-pity in recent days, take heart. I am here to tell you that missing out on all the usual trimmings really isn’t the same thing as missing out on all the fun.
The Gumboot proclaimed winner of the ‘war of the holidays’ earns its crown for many reasons. Many of those things that make Thanksgiving so favored are conspicuously absent from what has become my atypical Thanksgiving. If upholding tradition is an option, it is still probably the best option but, if not, there is still hope for your Thanksgiving weekend to be full of all the warmth and happiness it’s meant to bring.
Coming from a large matriarchal family, my Italian grandmother and her many daughters (my mom and aunts) have always been counted on to orchestrate incredible feats of holiday gatherings where food and family take center stage. Thanksgiving, however, has become the exception to this rule since the year my family elders decided they would rather roast themselves in the Palm Springs sun than roast turkeys to feed 40 people.
Since the first abandonment occurred, I have been launched from my cozy continuum of consumptionand into an experiment of creating my own holiday rules. Each year a new occasion has been invented or discovered. One year was an Oregon art gallery where many new friends were eagerly introduced to the Canadian version of a holiday they also love. Another year was a potluckpool party with all the fixins. Another was simply a long table in a tiny apartment packed with close friends. Whether they were spent with old friends or new, these deviations from the thanksgiving norm that I grew up with have been filled with good company, delicious food, and the thrill of breaking free from the norm and creating something new.
The emptiness left by a tradition lost can seem much more difficult to fill than that of a hungry belly. But losing one isn’t always an occasion to grieve. It can also be an opportunity to create new experiences that will stand out from the repetition of other holidays and to create something truly memorable and soul filling. The hunt is on for this year’s adventure. I’m still not sure what it will be, but I am certain that I will find a sense of community, if not a sense of tradition, wherever I wind up.