By Kelsey Linden
Christmas can be one of the busiest times of the year. With Christmas shopping, cleaning, and baking cookies, sometimes it’s hard to remember what the season really is about.
The choir members of St. Peter’s Catholic Church in Delano, embody the true meaning of Christmas as they sing George Frideric Handel’s most famous oratorio, “Messiah.”
Carefully selected from the Old Testament and the New Testament of the Bible, Handel spent only a year composing ‘Messiah’ before it was performed in Italy and England. Undoubtably, “Messiah” is Handel’s best-known work.
‘Messiah’ is broken up into three acts. Each act represents a period of the New Testament, beginning with the birth of Christ.
As is customary to the Christmas season, the St. Peter’s Catholic Church choir will only be singing the first act.
Musical Director Joseph Henry feels passionate about the piece, and about the dedication shown by the choir members.
Members include Tom Vieau, Mike Phillips, and Eric Hanson, who sing bass; Mike Schaefer, Vince Prososki, Adam Steinmetz, and Luke Healy, who sing tenor; Rebecca Shaffner, Becky Estby, Kathy Kurtz, Sharon Offerman, and Sherri Steinmetz who sing alto; and Peg Janisch, Holli Arthur, Meagan Phillips, Jean Pilarski, Brenna Healy, and Kelsey Linden, who sing soprano.
“The ‘Messiah’ is the world’s most famous oratorio, the most loved, it’s the most famous piece of this genre,” Henry said.
Last year, the church choir performed the opera “Amahl and the Night Visitors,” and Henry compares the differences by saying, “It’s not staged. An oratorio has everything an opera has, but the difference is that it’s not staged. It’s a concert piece.”
He also added, “Handel was a very successful oratorio writer. Oratorios were during his time. He wrote a lot of operas and oratorios, but his most famous was the ‘Messiah.’”
When asked why the choir was only performing the first act, Henry replied, “It’s really long. It’s very common to do this around Christmas time, but to do the whole three acts, it just gets too long.”
Henry always looks to find pieces that challenge his performers.
“I wanted to do something challenging for the group and that would be important for the congregation to hear,” he said.
“The group started rehearsing in the summer. It’s difficult music and I think it was good for us to get a start on it. It’s a dedicated group of people and really, for me, what’s remarkable about it is it’s really a product of the community. There’s this dedicated group of people that want to do this. Delano is a very close-knit community. It’s a small town, but there are a lot of talented people here,” Henry said.
Henry has a doctrine from Manhattan School of Music.
Another music major, Meagan Phillips of Delano shares Henry’s affection for “Messiah.”
“I’ve been singing in church choir since I was 3, and music has just always been a part of my life,” Phillips said.
Phillips attended St. John’s and St. Ben’s University and majored in music.
Originally growing up in St. Paul, Phillips moved to Massachusetts after college to volunteer at a church outside of Boston. In 2006, she and her husband, Mike, decided to move back to Minnesota to raise their family. Delano was a perfect fit.
With Henry as the accompanist, the choir was in need of a conductor. Originally planning to sing soprano, Phillips stepped up to help.
“It’s one of the great master works of all time,” Phillips said. “It’s just such fabulous music. There’s a reason it’s done every year, and there’s a reason people want to hear it every year. It’s just such incredible music.
“It’s so easy to get caught up into all the holiday shopping. I think it’s good to take a step back, and this is just such a great opportunity to do that: to remember what the season is really about and to enjoy some incredible music that sums up what the real meaning is.”
Phillips was very complimentary towards the St. Peter Catholic Church choir.
“I think it’s just incredible the dedication these people have shown. It is hard music, and people have really devoted a large amount of their personal time to learn this music in a short amount of time,” she said.
“We could not have done this without their dedication. It’s just phenomenal, and I think that really sets Delano church choirs apart from other church choirs because Delano is willing to go that extra mile.”
Both Henry and Phillips, as well as the choir, hope you will take the time to process exactly what Christmas is about.
Performances are Sunday, Dec. 16 at 3 p.m., and Wednesday, Dec. 19 at 7 p.m. There is no admission charge.