Handel's 'Messiah' to return to its roots, benefiting the needy


It's not quite a tradition, yet. But Savage music director Ray Miles hopes his presentation of Handel's "Messiah" -- a free concert to benefit the needy -- will become a fixture of the holiday season.

The concert that Mr. Miles will conduct Tuesday in the Savage Mill's Great Room has attracted more than 80 singers for the choir, twice as many as the charity concert last year.

"The interest has definitely expanded," he said. "This year it's going to become a tradition."

The 7:30 p.m. performance, projected to draw about $4,000 in donations from concert-goers, follows the charitable tradition established by composer George Frideric Handel with the first performance of the "Messiah" in 1741.

The Irish government commissioned Handel to compose the "Messiah" to raise money for hospitals and debtor's prisons in Dublin, Ireland. The first performance of the work raised 400 pounds.

"[The 'Messiah'] was strictly written for one reason: to raise money for poor people," Mr. Miles said. "I believe that it was ordained, not only by Handel, but by God, for that purpose."

Nowadays, professional entertainers often perform the "Messiah" for money in concert halls, without donating any of the proceeds to charity, Mr. Miles said.

"I think that for the most part we've lost sight of the reason for doing [the 'Messiah']," he said.

Mr. Miles, 50, moved to Savage from Prince George's County in 1990 and became the music director at the Savage United Methodist Church. Last year, he assembled a mostly volunteer choir from 25 churches in and around Savage to perform the "Messiah.".

When the group assembled this year for the first of eight rehearsals, Mr. Miles told choir members their mission was to raise money for charity.

"I just thought it was a really neat idea," said Edith Mazur, a soloist in the choir who sings soprano, speaking at a rehearsal earlier this week. "It really brings out the spirit of these holidays."

In addition to the choir, Mr. Miles recruited 15 musicians for the orchestra and four soloists, including Ms. Mazur. Some of the performers are professionals.

Proceeds from the concert will go to four charities: Grassroots, one of Howard County's primary homeless shelters; AIDS Alliance of Howard County; FISH, a soup kitchen and pantry in Laurel; and World Vision, an international disaster relief organization.

"I was there last year," said Andrea Ingram, director of Grassroots. "It's a wonderful and beautiful family event."

Last year, the crowd of 500 contributed more than $2,200 at the concert for charity.

Mr. Miles said he wants to raise at least $5,000 this year from donations and advertisements in the concert program.

The choir already has raised $1,000 for charity by selling the advertisements.

An additional $2,000 collected for ads will go to pay the orchestra and four soloists.

For its part, the mill waived the $1,200 room rental fee. Those who cannot fit into the Great Room will be able to watch the performance on three or four monitors that will be set up around the mill.

"We're excited to have [the 'Messiah'] performed here," said Beverly Schwink, the mill's manager. "It went so well last year, we're very excited to have a repeat performance."

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