WESTERLY — For many of us, it’s the gorgeous music so plentiful in the Christmas season that reminds us why we celebrate. This weekend, music lovers will have two opportunities to join professional musicians in song, from Handel’s glorious “Messiah” to the traditional Lessons and Carols of Advent.
On Saturday, the Chorus of Westerly will presents its annual “Messiah & Carol Sing” — a unique opportunity to sing the beloved masterwork and celebrate the holiday season — at 6 p.m. in the George Kent Performance Hall when the community is invited to join conductor Andrew Howell and chorus members in an open sing-along of the Christmas choral portions of G.F. Handel’s Messiah.
The Messiah, composed in 1741, has become one of the world’s most well-known and performed musical works. The English oratorio has also become increasingly popular during the holiday season, inspiring community sing-along events, known as Messiah Sings or Messiah Sing-Ins. Last year’s Messiah & Carol Sing was received so warmly, the good folks at the chorus decided to bring it back for a second year.
Howell said he will guide singers through the Christmas portions and favorite movements of the Messiah masterpiece in a relaxed and informal setting. The sing is open to anyone in the community and there is no audition required to participate. Everyone is welcome to come and sing this beloved oratorio, or come and just listen as an audience member. The evening will also feature a reception with light refreshments.
Admission to participate or to just listen and watch is $20 per person. Reservations are available by calling 401-596-8663 or online at chorusofwesterly.org. Music scores will be available upon request.
On Sunday, beginning at 5 p.m., the annual Festival of Lessons and Carols for Advent, a tradition at Christ Church for decades, will be held in the church. The festival features choral music by the Christ Church Choir under the direction of organist and choirmaster George Kent, along with the congregational singing of Advent carols. Also included will be the readings of the Advent lessons foretelling the coming of the Christ child by members of the parish and community leaders.
The service was created and performed by Edward Benson, the newly appointed Bishop of Truro in 1880, according to Caswell Cooke Jr., the media coordinator for the church. The idea to hold such a service traveled around the United Kingdom and became a popular Christmas Eve service, especially when members of the famous King’s College Cambridge Church Choir added their voices. That service was first performed at King's College in 1918 as a way of celebrating the end of World War I by the new college Dean, Eric Milner-White, who had been an Army Chaplain in the war. In 1919 Milner-White changed the opening hymn to “Once in Royal David’s City” and set the main order and structure of the lessons/readings as it is today, Cooke said.
A service features nine Bible readings (or lessons) that tell the Christmas story, with one or two carols between each lesson. The BBC first broadcast the service, on the radio, in 1928, and apart from 1930 it’s been broadcast every year since — even during World War II. In the early 1930s, the BBC started broadcasting the service overseas.
It was first broadcast live in the USA in 1979 by Michael Barone.
The church’s annual Festival of Lessons and Carols for Christmas will be held on Sunday, Dec. 31, at 5 p.m.
The public is welcome to attend both the services and the festive reception held afterward in the parish hall. There is no charge, doors open at 4:30 p.m., and child care is available in the nursery.
Christ Church is located in downtown Westerly at the corner of Broad and Elm streets. Visit christchurchwesterly.org online and on Twitter and Instagram.