A storytelling experience through the gift of song will be coming back to St. James Episcopal Church with the Oratorio Society of New Jersey’s “Messiah” singalong on Dec. 6 at 7:30 p.m. This is the first year since 2019 that the choral group will be performing at St. James, where the event was usually held before the pandemic. 

Though the “Messiah,” composed by George Frideric Handel in 1741, is about three hours long, the society and audience will sing only Part I and the “Hallelujah” chorus from Part II. 

The group will be led by music director and conductor Sandor Szabo, and there will be solo performances by singers and instrumentalists as well as the group performance. 

The event is free, but donations are encouraged. 

Scott Miller, a tenor and member of the group since 2012, said his first “Messiah” singalong was unforgettable because of the circumstances. The soloist who was scheduled to sing ended up falling ill, and Miller was called upon to fill in. Though his fellow members maintained that he did a great job, Miller joked, “My performance is indicative of the fact that I've never been asked to do it again.” 

The event is usually a big hit throughout town. John Willard, a member since 2015, said the church is full every year.

Some of the faces in the audience have become familiar over the years.

“They're familiar faces every year, who come out, so it makes for a very big sound,” Miller said. “And there's some excellent singers out there. And it just adds to the experience.”

The singalong coincides with the annual Christmas tree lighting that St. James holds. 

Because of the connection with the tree lighting, Miller said, the audience for the
singalong will likely attract more families with small children. He said the choral singing would make for a “fun, family experience.” 

For Marianne Wait, this will be her first time on the stage for the singalong. In the past, she has sung from the pews. Wait, a resident of Montclair for seven years, was looking for a choir group to join, and now that she’s in the group, she is excited to participate.

“I was thrilled to sing it as part of the audience,” she said. “Now I’m looking forward to helping guide the audience through it as part of the chorus.” 

When Wait saw the society perform the “Messiah” a couple of years ago, she didn’t make the connection that it was the choral group that she was always searching for.

“I finally found this wonderful group, and they've been very welcoming,” she said. “And I wish I had started singing with them sooner. 

“Singing shoulder-to- shoulder with people who also love the 'Messiah' really gives you a sense of community that can sometimes be hard to come by. It’s a great way to get into the true spirit of the holiday.” 

Willard described the event as more of a “jam” because unlike its other performances, the choir doesn’t rehearse it. For novices who aren’t aware of the history of oratorio, Willard described Handel as “the Beatles” of the oratorio world. 

Even though the oratorio follows the life of Jesus, member Helen Paxton said she wanted people to know this is an event for all, regardless of religion. 

“It's a joyful music that transcends, in my view, religion,” Paxton said. “It's just pure joy of music and celebrating the season.”