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Pro­fessor of Music James Holleman directs George Frideric Handel’s “Messiah” while Artist and Teacher of Music Debbi Wyse plays organ. Philip H. DeVoe | Collegian

While Amer­icans typ­i­cally asso­ciate Handel’s “Messiah” with Christmas, Hillsdale stu­dents, staff, faculty and com­munity members will have to wait a bit longer.  The college has opted to move its long-antic­i­pated per­for­mance  to Easter, between April 9 and 11, due to COVID-19. 

“It’s a big decision,” said Music Department Chairman James Holleman. “The college puts a lot of stock in the four-year cycle of Handel’s “Messiah” There’s a lot of build up, espe­cially with the building of the chapel.” 

The college choir per­forms “Messiah” every four years so that every class gets the chance to perform it once. Since Christ Chapel can seat 1,350 people, lim­iting capacity for two per­for­mances could turn away many, Holleman said. 

“If we limit it to 300 people, we’re pushing out almost 2,000 people,” he said. 

“Messiah” is a three piece ora­torio com­posed by George Frideric Handel in 1741. The ora­torio traces Christ’s time on earth from the Nativity, to the Passion, Res­ur­rection and Ascension. 

In place of per­forming Handel’s “Messiah” before Christmas, an orchestra concert will showcase dif­ferent instrument groups and a choir concert with the normal choir, chamber choir, and the new chapel choir. 

“Sunday will be choir without orchestra and then we’ll also feature the new chapel choir,” Holleman said. “The advantage to that is that we’re going to do some of the music they pre­pared last spring but didn’t get to perform because of the lockdown. We’ll add some sacred Christmas music. That will be less pressure on students.” 

Holleman made the decision to delay the per­for­mance in coor­di­nation with the president’s office and after a long con­ver­sation with College Pres­ident Larry Arnn. 

“We had a very pro­ductive, sup­portive con­ver­sation,” Holleman said. “We vetted as many aspects and sce­narios as we could and came to this con­clusion together.” 

The final decision came down to con­cerns about the mask wearing com­pro­mising the aes­thetic expe­rience, lim­iting capacity and thereby sending away almost 2,000 people, as well as a lack of cohesive prepa­ration due to coro­n­avirus precautions. 

“I just couldn’t see December being as good due to capacity restric­tions, chance of losing singers, the inability to have a full audience,” Holleman said. “I think wearing masks would not be a very authentic per­for­mance. I don’t think they did that in Handel’s day.” 

Holleman said his greatest concern was the stu­dents ability to perform the ora­torio to the best of their talents and abilities. 

“The per­for­mance would involve a lot of stu­dents in very intense rehearsal ‑165 stu­dents on stage for two to two-and-a-half hours of rehearsal,” Holleman said. “It’s been a dif­ficult semester for the stu­dents. I think they’ve sol­diered on beau­ti­fully, but we’re not as effective in choir — we’re spread out, we’re wearing masks, and it’s hard to hear people. We take breaks outside throughout practice to allow the air inside to ven­tilate out.” 

These restric­tions, along with having to limit how many people attend the event in the chapel made moving the concert to Easter a more prudent and optimal decision, according to Holleman. 

Stu­dents seem dis­ap­pointed, but relieved and hopeful for the chance to improve their per­for­mance, according to Holleman. 

For those seniors whose final year would be punc­tuated by per­forming the classic, the decision to move the event did not seem to create much angst. 

“I wasn’t super sur­prised,” senior Gabe Kramer said. “I think it’s probably the right thing to do. The types of people who come to con­certs are gen­erally older, so it’s probably not smart to have that many types of people together for that long.” 

Senior Michaela Stiles said she is grateful to have more time and a lighter load for the end of the fall semester. 

“It gives us an oppor­tunity to get the pieces down and time to rehearse,” she said. “Handel is such an iconic com­poser, and the “Messiah” is such an iconic piece, you want to be able to do it really well. I don’t think more time is nec­es­sarily a bad thing. I felt a little bit of relief because it lightens up the rest of our semester as we prepare for finals and projects. It’s one less thing we have to worry about.” 

According to Holleman, Handel orig­i­nally per­formed the “Messiah” around Easter. 

“After Easter, the ‘Hal­lelujah’ chorus has more meaning,” Holleman said with a laugh.