Shiloh Baptist Church at 9th and P St NW. (Kevin Clark/THE WASHINGTON POST)

This year, in attempt to develop an appreciation for sacred music among a new generation, the show choir and orchestra of the Duke Ellington School of the Arts will join Shiloh’s senior choir to sing the classic oratorio, officially pronouncing that it is Christmas time in Washington.

Maestro Thomas Dixon Tyler, special assistant to the pastor for worship, said that this year’s unique performance is a way for the custodians of such a rich legacy to ensure that Handel’s Messiah is performed for generations to come.

He said Shiloh’s presentation of the 18th century holiday standard has been a gift to the Washington metropolitan area for several years and hopes to present a new generation more enamored by material gifts with a spiritual present that will last them a lifetime.

This year’s presentation will also take on deeper biblical and theological meaning for the senior choir: as they began rehearsing, they engaged along in a six-week study of Handel’s Messiah entitled, “The Reason Why We Sing.”

To help lead these lessons, the Rev. Wallace Charles Smith, who has served as pastor of Shiloh for the last 20 years, turned to the Rev. Lewis Anthony, to lead his flock into the deep waters of theological inquiry about Handel’s masterpiece. This, Tyler says, “has led to a deepened scriptural awareness” of the libretto.

During the first Bible study session, Dr. Anthony admonished the audience that “worship runs the risk of becoming reflex after you do it for many years.”Judged by the number of hand-claps and “amens” many in the audience were in agreement.

Barbara Williams, a member of both the gospel and senior choirs, said the six weeks of study were helpful. “Choir members who have sung [the words] for a long time have finally gotten a sense of the background” that led to the selection of scriptures that comprise Handel’s Messiah.

She expects that new life has been breathed into each and everyone. They have an increased awareness to go along with their personal knowledge of the Messiah.

The story is told of an up and coming opera prodigy who had been very well trained. A well-known music critic went to hear her perform and was absolutely amazed. He went up to the performer’s voice coach and declared that hers was one of the best voices he had ever heard and that indeed she was ready for the big stage.

Her voice coach said that she had plenty room for growth and would possibly be better than even he could imagine. The critic asked how could this be possible and the voice coach said that she would sing even better once her heart had been broken.

Come Sunday, the Shiloh Baptist Church will undoubtedly be filled to the rafters with people and the senior choir will give them a gift of a lifetime, for they have been reminded of the reason why they sing and those gathered will be reminded as well. It is Christmas time in Washington!

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