Montreat readies for annual ‘Messiah’ performance

Margaret Hurt
Special to The Black Mountain News

Robert Boer, a Black Mountain resident and choral conductor, admired Weaverville’s decades-old tradition of performing George Handel’s famous oratorio “Messiah.”

Boer directed Weaverville community choirs in the performances for many years and had a strong desire to see the work performed in his own community. He knew the community would support it, having lived here and worked in the Montreat College music department since 2002.

Working with Montreat College, Boer made his dream come true in 2014. Reaching out to area church choirs, music ministers and colleges, he issued an open invitation to take part in his community choir. No specific choral experience was required to participate, he said. People just had to be willing to take part in regular practices and share in his vision.

A community choir of 35 was formed that first year. Boer spent much of his nonrehearsal time raising money and securing a performance location. Everyone loved the experience so much that the “Messiah” was performed again last holiday season.

The third annual “Messiah in Montreat” performance will be at 4 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 27 at Graham Chapel at Montreat College. Boer expects a standing room-only crowd for the nonticketed event (the event is free, but a $10 suggested donation will cover the costs of hiring professional musicians). Doors open at 3:30 p.m. Quiet children are welcome at the concert, which should last about an hour.

“It is a thrill,” Boer said, “to lead a group of singers to the point where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts, and to where they experience performing a wonderful piece of music before an audience who, for the first time, may understand this compilation of scripture set to music.”

Premiered in 1742, Handel’s “Messiah” became one of the most beloved choral works in music history, Boer contends. Created in three sections, the work is composed entirely of Biblical texts.

The performance in Montreat is the first of the three parts, a section often called the “Christmas” portion, though it includes the “Hallelujah” chorus, which actually concludes Part II. The scriptural text was compiled by Charles Jennens from the King James Bible and from the version of the Psalms included with the Book of Common Prayer.

Professional soloists and a chamber orchestra will join the choir in Montreat. Organist will be Linda Jones of Skyland United Methodist Church. Soprano soloist is Hannah Pennell. Jane McCoy, David Fields and Roberto Flores are the alto, tenor and bass soloists, respectively.

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

The community choir is composed of residents of Montreat, Black Mountain and Swannanoa, plus some Weaverville residents. The choir members will have practiced five times, beginning in mid-October.

Beth Ballhaussen and her husband moved to the area in 2013 and became the owners of Town Hardware & General Store. Part of the choir for three years, Ballhaussen can’t think of a better way to usher in the Advent season, she said.

“I love singing with the other community members,” she said. “The Lord gave Handel inspiration to compose the ‘Messiah’ in just two weeks. ‘Messiah’ is a classic piece for all times and all generations. It is God’s marvelous story of salvation set to music.”

Information on how to help with the performance costs is at Tax-deductible donations should be sent in advance to Christ Community Church, or made that night at closing.

Boer will conduct a similar “Messiah” performance at the First Baptist Church in Weaverville at 4 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 4, a performance that will include many choir members from the Montreat performance. For more about that performance, contact, or Harriet Burnett at (828) 645-5798.

Preparing to perform the “Messiah” always “takes a great deal of time and effort,” Boer said, “but every year it is confirmed that it was worth every second of it.”