Everything changes when you become a parent, including the music you listen to. I have two young daughters, so music in our house ranges from Raffi to vintage Sesame Street to Veggie Tales to Kidz Bop. Sometimes I’m nerdy and want to put on something a little more classy. Like Aaron Copland or Beethoven. Or during the Christmas season, I like listening to George Frederick Handel’s Messiah.
Handel’s Messiah and I go way back. I first saw a live performance of Messiah when I was 13 years old. I was with my best friend, who remarked the chorus sounded like angels singing.
I was in high school the first time I sang in that chorus. The Presbyterian church in my hometown stages a big production every December with a 100-plus-member chorus and large orchestra (my dad always plays the trombone). The chorus is open to whoever wants to sing and is comprised of people from churches all over the community, with evangelicals, mainliners, and Catholics all making music together. A few Catholic ladies in the alto section welcomed me to sit with them during my first rehearsal, and to this day I still keep in touch with one of them.
The music was more complex than anything I had sung in my church’s teen choir or in community theatre. I loved the entire oratorio, everything from For Unto Us a Child is Born with its long runs that left me wanting to sneak a breath, to the Hallelujah Chorus that brings the audience to its feet.
After graduating from college, I returned to my hometown, took a job as an editor at the newspaper, and started singing in Messiah again. I worked the evening shift at the newspaper and went to weekly rehearsals during my dinner break.
Being in Northwest Indiana, sometimes the lake effect snow chased us through the church doors. We sat in folding metal chairs around an upright piano in a large room in the church basement, our music books held high in front of us, our shoes leaving small patches of melted snow on the tile floor. The Catholic ladies, who knew not to take life too seriously, kept things fun in the alto section. Random bursts of laughter between songs were common.
The last year I sang as a Messiah chorus member, I was engaged to my husband Josh. Our wedding was planned for the coming summer, and I would be moving from Indiana to St. Louis, Missouri. Josh came into town to surprise me, and my parents got him a ticket so he could see me sing. I tried to treasure every moment of that last year I sang in Messiah, not knowing exactly what opportunities awaited me in St. Louis.
That was 10 years ago this month, and I haven’t touched a choir robe since. I lead a different life now, away from my hometown, with a family of my own. My days are spent reading picture books, watching Disney movies, sorting Barbie accessories, and listening to Kidz Bop renditions of Katy Perry and Taylor Swift hits.
I keep my vocal skills from getting rusty by singing in a women’s ensemble at church. A few music ministers ago at church, I sang with the choir in an Easter production that included the song Behold the Lamb of God from Messiah, but that’s the extent of my involvement with oratorios during the past decade. My heart aches a little every fall when I see friends back in Indiana post on Facebook about rehearsals starting up again.
Even 10 years later, lines of music still come back to me at unexpected times. When our pastor preached from the book of Malachai recently, I could hear the orchestra playing and the baritone soloist’s deep, rich voice singing For He is Like a Refiner’s Fire. I’ve possibly memorized more Scripture through singing Messiah than through attending years of Sunday school classes.
There are some St. Louis venues that show love for Handel, including the professional, audition-only St. Louis Symphony as well as a local university that does an annual Messiah sing-along that’s free to the public. A few years ago, I discovered a community chorus that sometimes performs Messiah during the holidays. I considered joining and may still do so when my daughters are older and busy with their own pursuits. At this point, though, I’m not eager to spend my evenings driving around the metro area to attend rehearsals when I haven’t seen my husband and school-age daughter all day.
That seems to be how it works when we become parents; parts of our former identities fade into the background. I’ve traded high-church music for watching my daughter practice on the high bar during gymnastics classes.
Since I became a parent, I am determined to instill culture in my daughters. The other week, I listened to Messiah in its entirety as I dusted and decluttered the basement, while my preschooler cooked plastic food in the playroom set up down there. I sang along with the alto part, talked to her about how pretty the music is, and explained that the people were singing about God.
My daughters will know there are many types of Christian music beyond the popular Christian radio hits that comprise most evangelical church services these days. My daughters will grow up familiar with the Hallelujah Chorus and Glory to God in the Highest and the vocally powerful Surely He Hath Borne Our Griefs.
Even if I still lived in my hometown, Messiah performances are not quite the same anymore. The man who directed the production for the past 50 years has retired, and a new director is at the helm. For now, I’ll continue to listen to Messiah with my daughters and expose them to a wide swath of music, from modern to 18th century. Maybe we’ll go to the symphony in a few years. First, we need to clear a path through the Barbies and take the Disney music out of the CD player.
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