Originally published Dec. 14, 2020 in the MetroWest Daily News. Written by Cesareo Contreras.
SUDBURY – For 47 years, the Memorial Congregational Church has hosted an event where members of the community come together to sing portions of George Frideric Handel’s Messiah.
Composed by Handel in 1741, the large musical composition known as an oratorio, chronicles the life of Jesus Christ. From birth to resurrection, the three-part choral works has become a “fixture of the Christmas season,” according to the Smithsonian Magazine and features the popularly sung Hallelujah Chorus. Although the Chorus is meant to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection on Easter, it’s often played at Christmas.
On the second Sunday of every December, people have been invited into the church to sing along with an orchestra and professional soloists.
This year, with the pandemic limiting religious organizations’ ability to host events, church officials had to think outside the box.
The result: a Memorial Congressional Church Drive-in.
On Sunday, more than 60 cars filled the parking lot of Curtis Middle School. An inflatable 40-foot screen was placed at the school and projected the faces of more than 100 different choral volunteers and musicians.
Event guests listened in by dialing their radios to 89.9 F.M. and were invited to sing along.
“We want to find ways to celebrate and connect to our community,” said interim minister of music at the church Rachel Williams, who was directing Sunday’s event. “We don’t need walls to be able to sing together.”
The Rev. Tom O’Brien said the church was inspired to host the event after seeing other churches do the same.
O’Brien said the event took hours of planning.
The event was broken into two parts and was meant to celebrate two of the church’s longstanding traditions, Williams said.
In addition to continuing the tradition of coming together to sing portions of Handel’s Messiah, the event was also meant to serve as a celebration of the church’s 20-year tradition of Christmas caroling, she said.
The first half of the hour-long show featured classics such as “Jingle Bells,” “Away in a Manger” and “O Little Town of Bethlehem.”
To abide by social distancing guidelines, each of the singers individually recorded a video of themselves singing and playing instruments. Their videos were then compiled into one larger video.
The second half of the event featured modern renditions of the oratorio, with the Hallelujah Chorus serving as the representative piece of the night, Williams said.
Williams said the event featured music that was influenced from the church’s Lift Every Voice project and included versions of the music from other traditions.
Two versions of the Hallelujah Chorus were performed during the event. A gospel rendition of the piece was performed, as well as the traditional one written by Handel.
O’Brien said the two versions of the Hallelujah Chorus signify that, although people’s cultural upbringings may be different, God’s message is the same.
“In a lot of ways, I think it reflects the theology and practices of this congregation,” he said. “We all have different voices and experiences in how we experience God and that they are all valid paths.”