• 'Messiah' enjoying local revival

  • Kellie Smith of Lehi, Utah, was just in town visiting family for three months. She didn’t know she would have the opportunity to sing “Messiah” as part of a choir while in Independence.

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  • Kellie Smith of Lehi, Utah, was just in town visiting family for three months. She didn’t know she would have the opportunity to sing “Messiah” as part of a choir while in Independence.
    For the first time, Smith will sing in a choir with her sister, Terri Martinez of Independence, and their mother, Linda Carter. Together, the family will be part of what is likely to become an Independence tradition once again, after a one-year hiatus.
    Alice Beebe, an experienced choir director and owner of Larice Music Enterprises near Englewood, is director and conductor of the new “Messiah” on Dec. 8 and 9 at the historic Stone Church.
    “Messiah” started in 1916 at Stone Church and was performed at the Community of Christ Auditorium for decades before relocating in 2011 to the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Kansas City. The concert had to relocate because of its partnership with the Kansas City Symphony and Chorus and their new home at the Kauffman Center. The Kauffman Center “Messiah” is this weekend.
    Although Alice Beebe, a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, organized the new Independence choir, its auditions were open to the entire community, regardless of religious affiliation. Smith and her family members also are members of the Mormon church.
    “The number one experience that I will go away with this is how unified this has been,” Smith says. “To see and to feel this camaraderie in the community has just really been impressive for me.”
    Although “Messiah” is taking place at Stone Church, it isn’t sponsored by Community of Christ. The performance includes an 85-voice choir, eight non-pair soloists, piano, harpsichord, organ and a mixture of stringed instruments.
    After Beebe put a call out for auditions early this summer, the response was so overwhelming that she added a second performance date. Ticket distribution for the more than 600 free seats also went quickly, and both of next weekend’s performances are already full, although a waiting list exists in case ticket holders surrender their seats.
    Weekly rehearsals began in mid-September, and because of the caliber of participants and the spirit of “Messiah” itself, Beebe’s first go-around has gone better than she initially expected, she says. She is optimistic in making “Messiah” an annual tradition in Independence.
    “You have hiccups – there’s no question that we have little hiccups here and there,” Beebe says, “but it’s just been fun. These people are so great to work with. I didn’t know a lot of them, but we just all love each other now.”
    A handful of singers are participating in both the Kauffman Center and Stone Church “Messiah” performances, including Kansas City resident Lucinda Kincaid.
    “I would do ‘Messiah’ 365, if everybody in town was doing a ‘Messiah’ 365 days a year,” Kincaid says. “I really love the work, and I love the work because of the testimony of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”
    Page 2 of 2 - Kincaid, who has partial vision, listens to musical compositions repeatedly to learn her parts and says participating in two “Messiah” choirs at the same time requires great discipline and study.
    But the two groups aren’t in any competition, Kincaid and Beebe both agree.
    “Every choir that is doing ‘Messiah’ stands the test of time – no competition,” Kincaid says. “Handel’s work stands on its own, without someone trying to compete with it. If I could spread myself to sing in every choir here in the Kansas City area, I would do it – I love the work that much.”
    David Armstrong says he doesn’t mind making the 45-minute drive one way from his home in Lawson, Mo., to rehearsals for “Messiah” at Stone Church. He didn’t participate in the previous “Messiah” in Independence, but Armstrong also is a member of Kansas City’s Mormon Chorale, which is how he learned of Beebe’s effort.
    Armstrong says “Messiah” means so much to him on many different levels, including musically, spiritually and “the genius of Handel.”
    “There’s just so many different levels of how I love it,” he says. “I first sang ‘Messiah’ when I was in college almost 40 years ago, and it was permanent. I wish I could’ve met Handel because I’m so impressed by how he put all of the pieces together and how well everything fits. I think he was inspired by God to do it – I don’t see how he could have by himself.”
    Dating back to 1969, Dianna Gibler of Bates City, Mo., spent several decades singing “Messiah” in Independence. She was part of “Messiah” when the choir traveled to Carnegie Hall in 2000, but Gibler’s last year with “Messiah” was in 2010, the year of the final Independence performance.
    She was overjoyed upon hearing of “Messiah” taking place in Independence again, Gibler says. She wanted to participate in the choir, but at auditions, Beebe asked Gibler to sing the “Rejoice” solo for fun.
    Gibler got the part.
    “I think one of the things I enjoy the most is trying to accomplish Alice’s vision of presenting Handel’s ‘Messiah’ back to the community,” Gibler says. “It’s a gift, and I’m just thrilled to be a part of the gift.”

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