People asked if they're familiar with Handel's “Messiah” may politely demur until they hear the iconic 44th piece of the second section.

And you can hear it in your head too: break the word “Hallelujah” up by syllable, but make the first “ah” last.

See? I told you you knew it.

“It's amazing that Handel composed that in about 30, 35 days and it's become a standard for 200 years,” John Davies said, seated at a pew inside the Stone Church in Independence eyeing the building's vaulted arches. Members of the choir were filtering in for their weekly rehearsal gearing up for a spring performance of “Messiah.”

Next month's 75-piece choir and 21-member orchestra performance of Jesus' story is something of a sacred tradition within a sacred tradition. The piece was first performed inside Independence's Stone Church in 1916 while smallpox ravaged the community. The church had been closed for a week due to the epidemic, but exhausted nearly all of its 850-person capacity when they debuted “Messiah.”

The tradition continued for nearly a decade when the performance was moved first to the nearby Community of Christ Auditorium, and then to the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts in Kansas City in 2011.

To give the downtown “Messiah” performance room to develop, the Independence group decided to discontinue their performance in 2011, but renewed interest in the tradition and the piece’s place in the town’s history prompted them to review the decision, Robyn Mun, Beebe’s assistant, said.

“It made sense for us to end it,” Paulette Votava Resch, soprano soloist, said. Nevertheless, “For me, it's like coming home.”

Soloist Jan Millard was quick to compare the all-volunteer musical group to a family. The Master of Music has more than 15 years of vocal performance experience between operas and teaching private voice lessons, but she said “Messiah” is unique in how much it requires from her every session.

“It's something that comes from within. You give it everything,” the vocalist said.

Conductor Alice Beebe headed the performance last year, and will lead the musicians again this year. She said the event is her way of expressing love and gratitude to the community.

Plus, “I think it adds beauty and history,” to the Stone Church, she said.

Pastor Terry Snapp – the self-described “cheerleader, champion and advocate” of the event and leader of the hosting church – said he would like to make this an annual event.

“I have to kind of take my pastor hat off and say I love the music, but, wow, what a message too,” he said. “And that you have it at this venue?”

Snapp sees at least a few revivals at work here.

“The metaphors are many,” he said.


Catch the Independence community choir's performance of "Handel's Messiah" on April 11 and 12. The event is free to the public and will be held inside The Stone Church, 1012 W. Lexington, Independence, at 7:30 p.m. on both evenings.

You can watch the choir in a short video at