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First performed in Dublin in 1742, George Frideric Handel’s “Messiah” remains one of the most beloved pieces of music. The tradition of performing it before Christmas is represented locally by Columbia Pro Cantare, which has performed it every year since 1984.

This year’s performance is Sunday, Dec. 8, at 7:30 pm. at Jim Rouse Theatre.

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The edited version performed by this Howard County-based choral ensemble includes the Christmas section and portions of Parts II and III. Even with the edits, the running time is around two hours.

“It’s a comforting thing for everybody to come and hear ‘Messiah,’ what with everything going on around the world,” said Columbia Pro Cantare music director Frances Motyca Dawson.

Doing “Messiah” every year prompts Dawson to continually fine-tune the performance. Also helping to keep it fresh during rehearsals and then the public performance is that longtime chorus members are singing alongside others who have joined the group more recently. Dawson said that this season there are around a dozen new singers within the 85-member chorus ensemble.

Dawson also finds that in many years she’ll be struck by a particular section of the work and contemplate it emotionally as much as musically.

“Something just jumped out and affected me this year,” she noted, citing a section of the text in Part II that goes: “All we like sheep have gone astray. We have turned everyone to his own way.”

As she has been working on the technical details of performing this section, she said that on a thematic level “It struck me that this is what we’re doing to the Earth. That thought hit me like a bolt of lightning. It reflects where we are now.”

Such observations about the ethical values expressed by Handel’s oratorio are running through Dawson’s head as she works with the chorus on the phrase-by-phrase technical details of what she characterized as “a piece that lends itself to many ways of doing short phrases. It’s not an easy piece to do, and we are always looking for its deeper meaning.”

Pursuing that deeper meaning at the upcoming performance will be the Columbia Pro Cantare Chorus and Festival Orchestra, as well as soprano Amy Van Roekel, mezzo Leah Kaye Serr, tenor Charles Reid, baritone Rob McGinness, and organist Henry Lowe.

Also, the Columbia Pro Cantare Chamber Singers perform seasonal music in “A Christmas Noel” on Sunday, Dec. 15 at 3 p.m. at Christ Episcopal Church, 6800 Oakland Mills Road in Columbia. Tickets are $15, $13 for seniors and students, in advance, and $2 more at the door; $10 for children 15 and under.#Call 410-799-9321 or go to procantare.org.

Columbia Pro Cantare performs “Messiah” on Sunday, Dec. 8, at 7:30 p.m. at Jim Rouse Theatre at Wilde Lake, 5460 Trumpeter Road in Columbia. There is a pre-concert lecture at 6:30 p.m. and a post-concert reception. Tickets are $23, $20 for seniors and students, in advance, and $2 more at the door; $10 for children 15 and under.

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