For the past 40 years, people have been gathering at Central United Methodist Church in Traverse City to sing Handel’s Messiah. Last Sunday, about 600 people pushed through the doors for what’s become a northern Michigan Christmas tradition.
You don’t need to be an accomplished vocalist to join the Messiah Sing. Men and women of all ages and talents show up — they join the regular church choir and chamber orchestra.
“It’s okay if we have a mistake here or there,” says Jeffrey Cobb, the director of music at Central United Methodist. “But I want people to throw themselves into it, to be passionate about what they’re doing so it feels like something everybody is really connected to.”
Judy Verhuel says she’s come to hear the Messiah Sing before, but this is the first year she sang in the chorus.
"I’m not a very good singer anymore – I used to sing – but I’m just enjoying it. Part of the time I’ll be moving my lips only,” she says, laughing.
Judy sang with her daughter, Robin Groothuis, who suggested they sing in the chorus this year.
“I called her a few days ago and asked if she wanted to come along just to watch at first,” says Robin. “And then I thought, ‘We should sing!’”
Handel’s Messiah is about Christ’s birth, but also his death and resurrection — the Easter story.
“But for whatever reason, it’s become tradition that Messiah is performed at Christmas,” says Jeffrey Cobb.
Of course, the most recognizable section of Messiah is the “Hallelujah" chorus.
Nearly ninety minutes into the performance when the “Hallelujah" chorus begins, everyone begins to stir. They stand, many of them smiling with anticipation. Some even pull out their phones to record. The chorus fills the church and Maurie Allen — who has never missed a Messiah Sing — gets goosebumps.
“I always do,” he says. “Every year. That never changes.”