Monday, Feb. 26, 2024|
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Handel's Messiah books are stacked for chorus and congregation members for an upcoming sing-along at Church of the Holy Cross in Hilo.
Singers rehearse Handel's Messiah for an upcoming sing-along at Church of the Holy Cross in Hilo.
Conductor Doug Albertson directs the chorus through "Glory to God" from Handel's Messiah for an upcoming sing-along at Church of the Holy Cross in Hilo.
Photo courtesy of Ian McMillan
Tom McAlexander conducts a chorus.
Ian McMillan, left, sings "Glory to God" on Saturday while rehearsing for The Messiah Sing-Along at Church of the Holy Cross in Hilo.
The 14th annual Handel’s Messiah Sing-Along is returning with a special honor for the longtime conductor and founder of Hilo’s holiday tradition.
Tom McAlexander, 85, heard The Messiah for the first time in high school when he was listening to the radio in his small northeast Texas hometown. Through thick static, he heard something different and beautiful.
“We had two types of music on the radio back then — country and western. There was no classical station, but one day I heard something that sounded beautiful — it was The Messiah being broadcasted from Chicago,” McAlexander said. “Years later, there was a sing-along at a church in Texarkana, and I fell in love with it.”
Handel’s Messiah is an English oratorio, which is a large musical composition for orchestra, choir and soloists, composed in 1741 by George Frideric Handel.
The Messiah is usually sung as a performance or a sing-along in churches during Christmastime. During a sing-along, the chorus sits in the audience and serves as section leaders, and soloists are chosen for each performance.
Throughout the years of singing in church choirs, McAlexander would participate in the chorus or audition for the tenor solo. He even sang the complete Messiah a few times.
One day while sitting in the Church of the Holy Cross in Hilo, a new organ and full choir immediately made him imagine how great The Messiah would sound in the sanctuary.
In 2007, the vision became a reality as McAlexander organized and conducted the first Messiah Sing-Along at Church of the Holy Cross. Over the years, Christ Lutheran and First United Protestant also hosted the tradition until the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.
This year, Ian McMillan, a friend of McAlexander and longtime singer of The Messiah, decided to bring it back to Church of the Holy Cross in honor of McAlexander and his longtime dedication to building, improving and leading choral groups in Volcano and Hilo.
When McAlexander retired and moved to Volcano, he had never been a choral conductor and never had plans to become one, but that changed quickly.
McAlexander joined the newly formed Volcano Festival Chorus, which was a group of about 20 singers led by Camille Almy. After a few years, she asked him to take over as conductor when she had to move to the mainland.
He declined at first, but with his knowledge of choral music, free time and willingness to work for free, it didn’t take long to convince McAlexander to give it a try.
At 57-years old, he became a choral conductor and held the position as director from 1996 to 2011.
McAlexander also found himself as the conductor of the Hilo Community Chorus in the early 2000s after the chorus at the University of Hawaii at Hilo and the community chorus separated.
By 2007, McAlexander and the Hilo Community Chorus formed a Board of Directors, and he was officially the volunteer musical director.
Since then, McAlexander has conducted a variety of concerts involving music from Vivaldi, Karl Jenkins, John Rutter, Joseph M. Martin, and so many more. He and other chorus members have also had the opportunity to sing at Carnegie Hall, perform with mass choruses and travel the world.
Health challenges have been difficult for McAlexander through this year, so when McMillan decided to restart the Messiah tradition, it was an easy decision to dedicate the sing-along to McAlexander and his influence on choral music in East Hawaii.
“Tom volunteered his time for decades to support and build the Hilo area chorus community, and with his current health challenges, we want to name and honor this for him, for all his work building choruses and programs,” McMillan said. “This is a real reunion, since we haven’t had this for three years. This is a wonderful chance for everyone to re-experience the incredible piece of music.”
During Messiah rehearsal last Saturday morning, McMillan thought about his past music teachers and choral conductors, many who have passed on. He reflected on the importance of the music, its connection through choral singers around the world, and how it feels like “coming home.”
“While we were singing today, I also realized that not just the people, but the musical phrases, have become like family. There are just certain phrases here and there throughout Messiah that represent musical perfection to me,” McMillan said. “When they start to come in to view and approach like old friends, I just run up and hug them.”
McAlexander was honored to hear that he would be recognized during the sing-along on Saturday, and is excited to experience the music and people again.
“I think it’s one of the nicest things that’s ever happened to me. I’m thrilled,” McAlexander said. “I’m so grateful for everyone who’s been with me since the beginning and to the community at large for the support.”
The 14th annual Handel’s Messiah Sing-Along will begin at 4 p.m. on Saturday at Church of the Holy Cross, located at 440 W. Lanikaula St.
Doug Albertson will be conducting, with accompaniment on the organ and keyboard from Rick Mazurowski and Walter Greenwood.
Soloists drawn from the local community include McMillan, Greg Lupton, Jim Thompson, Lori DeMello, Teresa Mondoy, Bob Grove, Landon Scott, Melanie Oldfather, Rachel Edwards, Marlise Ahuna, and more.
“Anyone can come in and participate at any level, even if they’re just there to listen,” McMillan said. “Our hope is that even people who don’t know Messiah might show up to listen, and maybe pick up a score, and follow along, and be inspired for next year.”
Email Kelsey Walling at email@example.com.
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