‘Messiah’ brings Montreat, Black Mountain together

Margaret Hurt
Special to The Black Mountain News

Montreat resident Lynn Gilliland is looking forward to a new mother-and-daughter activity this Advent season.

Drawing on their shared interest in music, she and her mother, Kitty Neil of Montreat, will join more than 30 other volunteers in the Montreat Community Choir for the second annual “Messiah in Montreat” performance. The event takes place at 7 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 29 in Montreat’s Graham Chapel at Gaither Hall.

As a child, Gilliland was always part of the church choir her mother directed in Martinsville, Virginia.

“Mom was a fabulous director, and we always sang as a family at gatherings,” Gilliland said. Her own kids joke that she had a song to sing for every occasion, just like her own mom.

“Singing is one of the joyful parts of existence for me,” Gilliland said. Now for the first time ever, mother and daughter will share as equals, as choir members.

Robert Boer, a Black Mountain resident and established conductor, directed the established Weaverville community choir’s Messiah performance for many years. As he admired the tradition that Weaverville continued year after year, his desire to create something similar in his own community strengthened. Working in the music department at Montreat College since 2002, he knew the music community well.

Affiliating with Montreat College, Boer took a chance on the idea last year. Beginning with an open invitation for the community choir, he reached out to area choirs, colleges and music ministers. He didn’t ask for any specific choir experience.

The results were good. A diverse 35-member choir was assembled, backed by important financial contributions. Though it was a tremendous amount of work, Boer was amazed, both personally and professionally, to watch and hear the group come together. And he was pleased with the results.

“To have a packed house and platform the night of the event in this little corner of the mountain was a great thing,” he said.

A memorable moment for Boer last year was when a guest said that the performance, with the Biblical scripture printed in the program, was the first time she fully understood the prophecy of Christ, as told in the “Messiah.”

“Messiah” is an English-language oratorio composed in 1741 by George Frideric Handel, with a scriptural text compiled by Charles Jennens from the King James Bible and from the version of Psalms included with the Book of Common Prayer.

Now Boer is diligently working to see this concert become an annual community tradition. This year’s community choir ranges in age from 17 to 77. Among the singers are members of church choirs; residents of Montreat, Black Mountain and beyond; and college student and a home-schooled one. Professional soloists and a chamber orchestra will join the choir.

“We choose to make admission free, to allow many people to hear this wonderful work and start the Advent and Christmas season with joy,” said Boer.

Now in the choir for the second year, Black Mountain resident Ben McCarty said the “Messiah” is part of many Christians’ heritage.

“It is such a moving piece to sing and to hear, and those singing never tire of the music. It has been a pleasure to be part of the effort, to meet and connect with community members,” McCarty said.

“With so many things coming and going these days, the ‘Messiah’ remains the same,” Gilliland said. “I appreciate the many different churches and communities represented. We are crossing borderlines in a common goal of (giving) this performance to the community.”

Donations for the program printing and hiring the professional orchestra have come from individuals, businesses and Montreat’s Friends of Music. But more is needed, and contributions will be accepted at the end of the concert. Boer is donating his time, as is the community choir.

Soloists for the performance include Beth Ballhausen, soprano; Jane McCoy, alto; John Smith, tenor; and Timothy Wilds, bass. Concert protocol is expected for the approximately one-hour concert (children may attend if they are not disruptive).