‘Messiah Sing’ brings community together in song

MIDDLEBURY — Over 300 area residents came together for the county’s 32rd annual “Messiah Sing” this past Sunday at the Congregational Church in Middlebury.
“The Messiah Sing is a big celebration, musically and spiritually,” said long-time Messiah soloist Leila McVeigh. “Being surrounded by a rich, full choir singing beautiful text is overwhelming in the best sense of the word. Part of the joy of the event is its inclusiveness, that anyone can walk in off the street, grab a score and start singing.” 
“Messiah Sing” conductor Jeff Rehbach, familiar to many as conductor of the Middlebury College Community Chorus, began the local tradition in 1984.
Rehbach’s love of “come one, come all” Messiah sing-a-longs began in his undergraduate dorm where a harpsichord playing resident organized a Messiah sing every year. Rehbach started as a singer and moved on to conducting the piece as a graduate student in musicology.
 “It was just completely open. Anybody could come and sing. Anybody could come and play,” said Rehbach. “So that’s where, for me, the tradition started.”
Rehbach brought that same spirit of openness to Addison County when he came here in the early 1980s as a librarian at Middlebury College.
“I always appreciate the balance Jeff creates, between helping us sound good, and letting everyone relax and have fun with the music,” said McVeigh.
At this past Sunday’s performance, Rehbach led the 300-member chorus upbeat, on-tempo and in tune.
Facing the crowd throughout the two-hour program he had them in stiches when he instructed singers to get the “g” in there so the chorus’s first big number was about the “glory of the Lord” and not the “lorries” of God’s heavenly trucking company.
Rehbach encouraged the crowd by shouting “Bravo!” after particularly tricky sections, and he asked the chorus to tackle a short passage just one more time, saying, “Now that you know it, just have a good time singing it.”
At the chorus “Unto Us a Child Is Born,” Rehbach put a little Christmas joy in every heart by reminding participants: “The next one is a fun little dance and I have a note to myself that says ‘keep this light.’ The child isn’t very heavy. Just imagine you’re bouncing that baby in your arms.”
At the famous “Hallelujah” chorus he quipped, “Next is something many of us wait for all year.” 
Rehbach said that it has been “wonderful to have seen the Messiah Sing grow over the years.” He described the early years as just a piano and a few dozen people.
This year’s 14-member string ensemble was led by Molly Bidwell, Carole Fenn, Hilary Hatch and Emily Sunderman, and was bolstered by trumpet player Bruce Burgess and harpsichordist Jenny Bower. Soloists included soprano Leila McVeigh, along with basses Jack DesBois, Joe McVeigh and Jim Wright. St. Alban’s voice teacher Erin Grainger sang alto. Opera singer Adam Hall sang the tenor solos, thrilling the chorus-members-turned-audience with his technical perfection and heartfelt interpretation. 
But in the whole this is a performance not to watch, but to be a part of.
“The reward, the joy in this tradition, for me, is simply that it allows the community to come together and to make music together and to enjoy doing it,” Rehbach said. “It’s just a delight that people are willing to take the risk of coming out and not necessarily knowing the music inside out, as we haven’t rehearsed it, and simply have that sound fill this incredibly beautiful space and have that sense of joy — as a community — that music can bring.”
Reporter Gaen Murphree is at [email protected]

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