Singalongs have become quite popular, particularly at this time of year. People sing along to such film classics as “The Sound of Music.” They carol with such groups as the Masterworks Choral Ensemble and the Seattle Men’s Chorus.
But for those who want to sing along to a classic of classical music, it’s hard to beat the Student Orchestras of Greater Olympia’s “Messiah” singalong, happening Monday at The Washington Center for the Performing Arts.
“We plan on the whole audience being the choir,” said Greg Allison, who conducts the student orchestra’s brass choir and will be one of the guest conductors for Monday’s performance.
Actually, though, some people do come just to listen, and that’s OK.
Never miss a local story.
“I would say somewhere between half and two-thirds of the folks who are there sing,” Allison said. “Just about everybody sings the ‘Hallelujah Chorus,’ anyway.”
The chorus, the most famous piece from Handel’s 1741 oratorio, is not easy to sing, but doing one’s best has become a tradition around the country as well as here in Olympia, where this is the 16th year for the group’s version.
While performances of the “Messiah” are commonplace and there are a good number of singalong versions, too, not many feature a full orchestra, Allison said.
This singalong typically attracts between 700 and 900 people, he said. One year when there was an ice storm, between 400 and 500 people still attended.
“These people are dedicated, and they come from all over the place, from Gig Harbor and farther north than that,” he said. “We’ve had people come from Kelso-Longview.”
For many of those who participate, the music connects them to something bigger than themselves, he said.
“For some people, it’s very meaningful on a spiritual level,” he said. “For some people, it’s very meaningful on a community level. For some people, it’s the history, because they sang it in high school or in a community choir.
“People are transported to a place they’d like to revisit.”
Elizabeth Ward, the assistant conductor of the brass choir and another guest conductor for Monday’s performance, has just such a deep history with the work.
Back in the 1960s, she sang “Messiah” with the choral ensemble Singing City accompanied by the Philadelphia Orchestra.
“That was exciting for me,” she said. “I decided that sometime I wanted to be out in front of the orchestra and the choir and do some conducting.
“It took a long time for my dream to come true.”
What gives Handel’s “Messiah — and the “Hallelujah Chorus” in particular — such lasting appeal?
“It resonates very deeply with most people,” Allison said, pointing out that if you just mention the title, many people will begin to sing. “Some tunes just don’t leave your head, and it’s one of those.”
“It energizes people,” Ward said, “and during the Christmas season, it draws them into the story itself.”
There are musical reasons for the tune’s deep effect, composer and conductor Rob Kapilow, author of “What Makes It Great,” told NPR in a 2012 interview.
“What makes Handel great is that first note is lengthened and then we explode at the end,” Kapilow said. “We have this HAAAA-le-lu-jah.”
He also pointed to the section where the words “king of kings and lord of lords” are repeated. “Each one seems to be the highest you could possibly get,” he said. “That's the climax of the piece.”
“There’s this jubilation that just comes out of it,” Allison said.
What: Audience members are invited to sing from their seats as the Student Orchestras of Greater Olympia — along with members of the Olympia Symphony Orchestra, Olympia Chamber Orchestra and Anna’s Bay Chorale — perform part of Handel’s “Messiah.”
When: 7 p.m. Monday.
Where: The Washington Center for the Performing Arts, 512 Washington St. SE, Olympia.
Tickets: Free; donations accepted. Scores are available for $10.
Information: 360-753-8586, washingtoncenter.org.