“There’s something to be said of tradition,” says Dr. Neil Woodruff, a member of the Olivet music faculty as he sits at his desk in Larsen Fine Arts Center. “We don’t have a whole lot of traditions these days.” As he speaks, various instruments can be heard practicing from around the building, music students doing their best to maintain their own tradition of excellence.
The tradition Dr. Woodruff speaks of, however, dates back 82 years
in Olivet’s history. It is Olivet’s performance of “Messiah,” held annually in Centennial Chapel. “Messiah” will be performed Sunday, Dec. 6 at 6 p.m. and will be free to attend.
“Messiah” is largely considered to be the masterpiece of the baroque composer George Frideric Handel, and serves to recount the life and times of Jesus Christ in musical format. It’s most recognizable melody is its iconic Hallelujah Chorus. “Messiah” is an extensive work split into three parts; the prophecy of Christ’s birth, the death and resurrection of Christ, and the final judgement and second coming. Olivet’s performance will focus mostly on the first and second part, with some pieces of the third.
This massive performance does not simply pull itself together. The undertaking itself is led by Neil Woodruff and Jeff Bell, both esteemed members of the Olivet music department who dedicate themselves to the yearly realization of this grand vision.
Many members of the music faculty find themselves working on “Messiah” in various ways. Almost all of the vocal ensembles must be taught the music for the performance, and the orchestra must also rehearse. In this way, “Messiah” becomes a culmination of the collected efforts of almost the entire music department.
From choir to orchestra, various students in the school of music invest time into making this production the best it can be. Sophomore Austin Burdine will be playing the viola in Olivet’s “Messiah” for the second year. He practices both individually and with the rest of the orchestra to make sure his part is prepared. Similarly, junior Ryan Marcotte will be singing in the choir for his third year of performing in “Messiah.”
“My favorite thing about being in the chorus in the ‘Messiah’ is the ability to see music which is hundreds of years old uplifting people still,” Marcotte said. “God is really evident in the audience during the performing of the ‘Messiah.’”
Olivet’s yearly performance of “Messiah” is more than just an ordinary concert though. “It’s kind of our Christmas gift back to the community,” Dean of School of Music Don Reddick said. “Even though that’s an act from the school of music, it really comes as a gift from all of Olivet, which is another reason why we don’t necessarily charge an admission. I think it’s one of those things the community has come to expect, and it would be missed if we didn’t offer it.”
The same sentiment was confirmed by one of the production’s co- organizers, Jeff Bell. “Some folks I’ve met come and drive up every year just for ‘Messiah,’” Bell said. “They’re not here for anything else during the year, just ‘Messiah,’ because that’s become their big family tradition, and that goes back a long way.”
–Steven Case, contributing writer