It’s Official, It’s Christmas Time in Washington!

[A version of this was also posted on the RootDC's website on December 9, 2011]

Come Sunday at Five O’clock in the afternoon a very familiar chord will strike in a very unfamiliar way because the presentation of Handel’s Messiah at the Shiloh Baptist Church, in Northwest Washington, although a community tradition is everything but traditional particularly under the direction of Maestro Thomas Dixon Tyler. The Reverend Doctor Wallace Charles Smith, who has served as Pastor of Shiloh, for the last 20 years, will officially pronounce that it is Christmas time in Washington, because for him and many other that is what the Senior Choir’s annual performance has come to symbolize.

This year in attempt to address the critical urgency of developing an appreciation for sacred music among a new generation, the famed Show Choir and Orchestra of the Duke Ellington School of the Arts will join Shiloh’s Senior Choir. When asked about this year’s venture, Maestro Tyler was quick to point out that it is imperative that the custodians of such a rich legacy “insure that it (Handel’s Messiah) is performed for generations to come. As the presentation of Handel’s Messiah has been a gift to the Washington Metropolitan Area for several years, this year it hopes to present a generation more enamored by material gifts with a spiritual gift that will last them a lifetime.

This year’s presentation will also take on deeper biblical and theological meaning for the Senior Choir has not only put in hours of rehearsal time but they engaged along with other members of the congregation in a six-week study of Handel’s Messiah entitled, “The Reason Why We Sing.” For this Pastor Smith turned to a friend of Shiloh, the Reverend Doctor Lewis Anthony, to lead his flock into the deep waters of theological inquiry. This, Maestro Tyler says, “has led to a deepened scriptural awareness” of the libretto.

During the first Bible Study Session, Dr. Anthony admonished the audience that “worship runs the risk of becoming reflex after you do it for many years.” Judged by the number of handclaps and Amens many in the audience were in agreement. Barbara Williams, a member of both the Gospel and Senior choirs, when asked about the impact of the six-weeks of study on those who would now have to perform offered this reflection, “choir members who have sung [the words] for a long time have finally gotten a sense of the background,” that led to the selection of Scriptures that comprise Handel’s Messiah.  She expects that new life has been breathed into each and everyone.  They have an increased awareness to go along with their personal knowledge of the Messiah.

The story is told of an up and coming opera prodigy who had been very well trained. A well-known music critic went to hear her perform and was absolutely amazed. He went up to the performer’s voice coach and declared that hers was one of the best voices he had ever heard and that indeed she was ready for the big stage. Her voice coach said that she had plenty room for growth and would possibly be better than even he could imagine. The critic asked how could this be possible and the voice coach said that she would sing even better once her heart had been broken.

Come Sunday, the Shiloh Baptist Church will undoubtedly be filled to the rafters with people and the Senior Choir will give them a gift of a lifetime, for they have been reminded of the reason why they sing and those gathered will be reminded as well. It is Christmas time in Washington!

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