Thursday, December 24, 2009

Halleluiah Chorus

When Mathew asked me if I'd be interested in going for the concert, I said WOW. YES, YES AND YES.

It was to be in Carnegie Hall!

It was Handel's Messiah.

Now, I must admit that my exposure to classical music – both western and Indian – i s next to nil. But FOR UNTO US A CHILD IS BORN, WORTHY IS THE LAMB and of course HALLELUIAH CHORUS, I guess, are items that one listens to and absorbs sometime or other in the course of a lifetime.

Five years back, my husband and I decided to attend the midnight mass at Don Bosco church in Mumbai 'cos the local church choir was to perform the Halleluiah Chorus as the grand finale.

So I guess it's true to say my excitement was about listening to the Halleluiah Chorus being performed by a professional group. It'd be different from anything I'd witnessed.

As we walked into the Hall, Anita and I joked about the various theories on why people stood up during the rendition of Halleluiah Chorus.

"Well, I'm not going to stand up. It'd be an effort for me. What difference would it make?"

"Your wish", said the ever understanding Anita.

The performance began. I must say I was impressed - the fascination of a novice. About something very fundamental. About how ninety voices could sing with such coordination, how 5 cellos and sixteen violins could play in such perfect unison and produce the effect I was listening to. No sound engineering this. It's harmony and beauty that are born of human discipline, hard work and inherent sense of music.

As I sat there, I thought of that miserable day some 40 years back when I was sent from the school to attend an audition for the Pondicherry choir group, and was rejected. That particular group always closed their Christmas performance with Halleluiah Chorus. And I had already begun to imagine myself standing right in the front row of the group, my mouth opening and closing like a goldfish, my eyes looking at a nonexistent point somewhere in mid air with great concentration – and the final bowing low from the hip in acknowledgement of the thunderous applause to which I myself had contributed the previous two years.

All dreams had come crashing down during the audition before I could get even half way through the number that was given in advance!

And so I sat there on 23 Dec, 2009, and UNTO US A CHILD IS BORN was sung. I listened fascinated and excited, 'cos it was familiar.

Soon I started dozing. What a shame, you must be thinking. But dozing off is not a conscious decision. Each time I woke up guiltily with a start, I saw either Mathew or Anita or Jen having a little bit of fun at my expense.

Finally, I blurted out.

"I've had a long day. Wake me up when the Halleluiah Chorus begins"

And I didn’t voice the thought that came to my mind. "I hope I won't snore!"

I must have dozed off for quite sometime. No. doze is not the word. I fell into a deep sleep – a talent I have for performing at the most inappropriate places.

And then, I became vaguely conscious of a tap on my knee.

And it happened.


It exploded into my consciousness – all levels of it. I threw off the great coat under which I'd been snuggling comfortably, jumped up onto my feet without any helping hand and stood there as the ninety voices accompanied by the orchestra rent the air with a superb praise of divine majesty.

And the entire audience was on its feet too, I noticed.

As I stood there, I was goose bumped all over. And tears started streaming down my face!

No, it was not arthritis that made King George stand up during Halleluiah Chorus.

I wonder if I too saw the face of God!


[Here's the mail Anita sent after she booked tickets for the show for us:

Wikipedia has an interesting entry about Handel's messiah. try and read. I thought this part (esp the reasons why king george got up) was hilarious.

The most famous movement is the "Hallelujah" chorus, which concludes the second of the three parts. The text is drawn from three passages in the New Testament book of Revelation:

And I heard as it were the voice of a great multitude, and as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of mighty thunderings, saying, Alleluia: for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth.. (Revelation 19:6)

And the seventh angel sounded; and there were great voices in heaven, saying, The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever. (Revelation 11:15)

And he hath on his vesture and on his thigh a name written, KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS. (Revelation 19:16)

In many parts of the world, it is the accepted practice for the audience to stand for this section of the performance. Tradition has it that King George II rose to his feet at this point. As the first notes of the triumphant Hallelujah Chorus rang out, the king rose. Royal protocol has always demanded that whenever the monarch stands, so does everyone in the monarch's presence. Thus, the entire audience and orchestra stood too, initiating a tradition that has lasted more than two centuries. It is lost to history the exact reason why the King stood at that point, but the most popular explanations include:

  • As was and is the custom, one stands in the presence of royalty as a sign of respect. The Hallelujah chorus clearly places Christ as the King of Kings. In standing, King George II accepts that he too is subject to Lord of Lords.
  • He was so moved by the performance that he rose to his feet.
  • He arrived late to the performance, and the crowd rose when he finally made an appearance.
  • His gout acted up at that precise moment and he rose to relieve the discomfort.
  • After an hour of musical performance, he needed to stretch his legs.

There is another story told (perhaps apocryphally) about this chorus that Handel's assistant walked in to Handel's room after shouting to him for several minutes with no response. The assistant reportedly found Handel in tears, and when asked what was wrong, Handel held up the score to this movement and said, "I thought I saw the face of God."[9]]]


  1. Superb write, superb craft, leave alone everything else, which too, superb.

  2. nice read........ no such concerts happening here in chennai :(


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