Sharon Proudfoot’s copy of Handel’s “Messiah” is well worn. It’s yellowed and tattered, so much so that paper clips are needed hold its cover and pages together. It’s understandable — it’s been through a lot, years of practicing and rehearsing with the Golden Isles Community Messiah Choir.
The Brunswick resident has been singing in the local Messiah production for 29 years. She even traveled to New York City to perform the piece at Carnegie Hall.
“I was part of a group of 11 from our local chorus who joined an international group to perform it two years ago,” Proudfoot said.
She will mark a major milestone — her 30th year — when the group, 90 strong, takes to the stage at 3 p.m. today at Wesley United Methodist Church at Frederica on St. Simons Island. The concert is free, but a $10 donation is suggested to help defray costs.
“It really is my Christmas present to myself each year. I continue to do it because it’s an amazing work to begin with.” Proudfoot said. “To be part of a group singing it is moving to me, and, even after all this of these years, I get emotional during some of the choruses.”
The sentimentality is shared by many. The piece is a powerful testament to faith. Originally written in 1741 by George Frideric Handel, the three part oratorio covers the major parts of Jesus’ life.
The first, which will be performed by the local choir, focuses on the coming of Christ. It includes prophecies by Isaiah and the angel’s directives to the shepherds following Jesus’ birth. The second and third parts focus on the Passion, the resurrection and ascension.
This year’s production director, Matthew Caine, says the power of the music is sure to move attendees.
“From the moment it was performed, Handel’s Messiah was an instant hit, and it has resonated with people for over 250 years. It seems to transcend changes in culture, changes in people’s perception of things and changes in musical likes and dislikes. It is still popular throughout the world today,” Caine said.
“While it is an overtly religious text, I think it still captures themes that transcend religion and can resonate with anyone regardless of faith ... such as the themes of hope and light. They are just wonderful concepts that people can get invested in emotionally, regardless of what their religion may or may not be.”
Even though Proudfoot is very familiar with the composition, it never ceases to inspire her. The sense of community the production creates also sets the tone for her holiday season.
“The fact that Handel composed the entire work in less than a month blows me away,” she said. “I also love the fellowship with people I get to see each year during rehearsals and performances. Even in our small community, I don’t run into some of them except during Messiah season.”
While the Messiah production will kick off the Christmas season, it is by no means the only musical celebration. Churches throughout the community are planning to share the joy of the holiday through song. Several congregations are planning programs that incorporate music in sharing the story of Christ’s birth.
Over at First Baptist Church in Brunswick, music minister Mark Clay is eagerly preparing for their production, the Brunswick/Golden/Isles Christmas Pageant. It will be the first large scale performance held in the church’s newly renovated sanctuary.
It will be held at 5 and 7 p.m. Dec. 9. The title of this year’s pageant is, “The King is Here,” a new work just released this year. The composition contains a variety of musical styles, ranging from contemporary to jazz, gospel to praise intermingled with traditional carols.
For his part, Clay simply can’t wait to share the special moment with the community, something the participants have been preparing for since August.
“There are hundreds involved from within our church. The music ministry of our church produces and presents the annual pageant. However, a production of this magnitude could not be done without the help of the staff, members and groups within the church,” he said.
Those participants span generations, from infants to senior adults, who offer their skills as actors, musicians and artists. Clay is thrilled to be able to showcase their many talents.
“Our church is blessed with an extraordinary adult choir, First Praise, with nearly 100 singers. A number of the members have studied music and others just love to sing. There will also be a variety of vocal ensembles singing — Adoration, a women’s ensemble, His Men — a men’s group, and Joyful Praise — a mixed vocal ensemble with both men and women,” Clay said.
“The FBC Brunswick orchestra, First Sounds will also be participating in the Pageant. This orchestra is comprised of some of the most gifted musicians in the Golden Isles and accompanies worship services. The First Praise choir and also plays for special programs and events throughout the year. In addition, soloists, narrators, a large drama cast, ushers, greeters, nursery, production personnel, audio and lighting technicians will be adding their assistance and participation to the pageant.”
For the Rev. Chris Winford, pastor of First Baptist Church of Brunswick, the event is an opportunity to invite the whole of the community into the church for a collective celebration of the Christmas and a time to focus on the true meaning of the season.
“The Christmas season is commonly referred to a season of giving. It’s during this season the church gladly reminds the community that God loved the world so much that He gave His one and only son, Jesus,” Winford said. “The pageant is an awesome night of worship celebrating the birth of the Savior of the world because it is truly an amazing thought that Jesus, being fully God, became fully man to show us how much He loves us.”
Clay feels that celebrating that message through song is a natural way to tap into the joy of the season. It’s something, he notes, that began in the Middle Ages.
“Many centuries before the birth of Christ, God made a promise to His people of the coming of the Messiah, the Anointed One. He was to be the Redeemer of the world. As early as the Middle Ages, songs and carols were written, telling of the birth of Christ. These songs were a form of sacred folk music used by the church as a teaching tool,” he said.
“Doctrine was spelled out by the words of the carols. And continuing through the ages, songs have been passed down and new ones written that tell the story of Christmas — the angels, the shepherds, the wise men, Mary and Joseph, and all the events leading up to the day God fulfilled His promise — Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Savior of the world was born in a manger in Bethlehem.”
First Baptist Church Brunswick’s Christmas pageant, as well as churches throughout the community, will be sharing programs and carols to offer praise. And Clay says classic songs help to offer a deeper connection to God.
“Christmas just isn’t Christmas without music. Carols such as ‘’Silent Night’ give us a feeling of security and contentment. Like so many other carols, it takes us back to the peace and quiet of that stable two thousand years ago. It reminds us that God is a faithful God who fulfills His promises,” he said.
“Singing the carols and songs of Christmas puts us in touch with our past, brightens our lives, and reminds us of God’s promises for the future.”