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Handel's Messiah: How to improve the quality of choir rehearsals and performances during the Christmas holidays

First performed in 1742, Handel's Messiah has become one of the most performed and iconic choral works in the Christian world. With the Christmas holiday coming up and many church choirs performing the famous oratorio, those who don't have time to invest in a full orchestra can opt to use accompaniment tracks for their choir rehearsal accompaniment. In this article, we'll take a look at how orchestral accompaniment tracks can improve the quality of choir rehearsals and performances during the Christmas holiday season.

1) A brief history of Handel's Messiah

The best-known work by Handel is probably his Messiah, written in 1741, but several of his oratorios contain sections set to music based on biblical texts. An oratorio is similar to an opera, but without singing. The stories are presented in spoken dialogue interspersed with choruses, recitatives (similar to arias) and other elements. The libretto for Messiah was compiled from King James Bible translations into modern English by Charles Jennens.

To mark Handel’s contribution to music, composers have arranged his masterpieces for performance by symphony orchestras. This usually involves taking some or all of Handel’s choral parts, eliminating them completely or replacing them with orchestral elements. A modern chorus can be used instead of Handel’s soloists or an ensemble can be hired that is designed to replicate the sound of eighteenth-century instruments, including baroque-style violins, oboes and trumpets. This allows both musicians and audience members more familiar with orchestral works to appreciate Messiah while not compromising on its religious themes. This type of performance has become popular in recent years, especially among amateur choirs performing at church services around Christmas time.

2) How to choose orchestral accompaniment tracks for your choir

The first time you hear Handel’s Messiah, it might feel like a lot of things are going on at once. That’s because there are—it’s an oratorio, after all. But, as you listen more carefully, one thing becomes clear: The piece is really all about Jesus and his journey on Earth—and its accompaniment needs to reflect that focus. If your congregation is considering adding Messiah to its repertoire for Christmastime or another major celebration, it can be tricky finding orchestral accompaniment tracks that match your musical skill level as well as Handel’s dramatic vision.

If you’re not sure where to start looking for these tracks, first narrow down your options based on instrumentation. Most classical music groups use stringed instruments like violins, cellos and upright basses. Adding orchestral accompaniment tracks that feature woodwinds like clarinets, flutes and saxophones can also give your Messiah arrangement extra depth. This is especially true if you include some brass instruments too—trumpets are often used in Christmas celebrations.

Download Backing Tracks for Handel's Messiah

Spiritrax.com carries a fully orchestrated version of Handel's Messiah, complete with all of the main choral and solo numbers. The recordings match the style, tempo, and instrumentation of the London Symphony Orchestra performances.

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3) Improving Your Choir's Rehearsal Experience

Using Handel’s Messiah orchestral accompaniments can vastly improve your rehearsal experience. You can hear exactly what your choir is supposed to sound like in real time so you know if they are on key or in sync. This also helps them learn more effectively by being able to clearly hear their mistakes in real time. Using these orchestral versions will help your vocalists have a much better rehearsal experience because they will feel supported throughout each practice session rather than being frustrated with themselves for not hitting notes, no longer able to hear themselves over others when they are singing alone, or having conflicts with other vocalists who are out of tune or out of rhythm during practice sessions.

For many choirs, practicing with a backing track can make all of these problems go away. It helps choir members practice their singing in a way that doesn’t burden them mentally with always having to keep an eye on others or focus on learning complicated songs rather than just enjoying their time practicing together. If you’re a music director who spends a lot of time stressing over problems like these, it can be helpful to try using an orchestral version of Handel’s Messiah instead. This will give your singers something they can rely on to help them learn even while allowing them more room for self-expression within every song because they know they won’t be held back by other voices or sounds clashing with theirs while doing so.

4) The Power of Orchestral Backing Tracks

Handel wrote his Messiah as a call for peace, but it may be time to rethink what we expect from our choirs. The most recent recordings with full orchestral accompaniment, such as those by The New London Consort (1996) and Ex Cathedra (2004), show that Handel’s music is most powerful when sung against an orchestral backdrop.

For years, accompaniment has been confined to an organ. However, if you want your congregation to hear what Handel originally intended, it may be time for your choir or orchestra to pick up their instruments again. These recordings suggest that not only does full orchestral accompaniment make for a richer listening experience, but it can also help singers reach new artistic heights.

If you’re eager to reap these benefits for your own performance, but are feeling daunted by what seems like a major addition to your performance schedule, think again. Full orchestral accompaniment doesn’t have to be time-consuming or expensive, especially when it comes from skilled professionals who understand that an individual performance may not be repeated. Leveraging professionally crafted backing tracks is an affordable, attainable solution for any situation requiring orchestral support. You can add full orchestral accompaniment to one or all of your concerts—it’s completely up to you!