KENNETH E. CHADWICK, (Member, Fairlington United Methodist Church Choir, Alexandria, Virginia): Advent is the beginning of the Christmas season. It is the season whereby we’re waiting for something to happen, and that happening is the birth of Christ. It’s always a traditional event here at Fairlington UMC for the purposes of singing Handel’s Messiah with a sing-along group, which we’re inviting people outside of the congregation and the community to come and sing with us. The music for Messiah is one that is an important, an integral part of the season itself because of the message that it carries. It’s a timeless piece, and it’s funny how over time the music itself takes on new meaning and new facets.
When I was younger, I was doing it out of respect and love for my mother, who was a great singer. I would go with her to the church and sing with her. Now it’s a reflection and looking back on that experience, in light of that experience and what I’m doing now, because I have three kids myself, and all of them have sung at one point or another in the Messiah. So it’s a passing along of that tradition that is an important aspect of our family.
I’ve been singing the Messiah for a long time so it’s very familiar music to me. We do our rehearsals, and we also then reflect ourselves individually about what the music means to us and what the singing can do for us as well. The singing is an important part of my faith—an important part of my experience of my faith. The music itself is probably one of the most emotional pieces that I’ve ever sung, and I’ve sung a lot of music over 60 years.
There’s so much good music in it, so much of a challenge in terms of singing that music, but the message that is conveyed and the message that comes through the music is also very important. It sends a message of hope, a message of faith and joy, especially with regards to the season. And the music accelerates that aspect of the joy, the coming, the idea of Christ being incarnate here on earth and being part and experiencing what it is that we on a daily basis live. So knowing that that was an aspect of his life here, it makes our life a little bit more easy in terms of our faith.
I don’t think you can sing the Messiah without singing the Hallelujah Chorus. But “for unto us a child is born” is another significant chorus. There are other choruses as well, but for me the Messiah is the Hallelujah Chorus. It is an emotional experience in the sense that you listen to the music, and you listening to the swelling of that music going towards the end, and the idea that you’re giving thanks and praise and glory to God. And in the end, that’s what life is about—the idea of giving that glory and thanks to God for the purposes of being here on earth.
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At Fairlington United Methodist Church in Alexandria, Virginia, the congregation invites the surrounding community to participate in an annual sing-along of Handel’s Messiah. Fairlington choir member Kenneth E. Chadwick has been singing Messiah for decades, and it has become a family tradition, he says, first with his mother and now with his children.