A 'Joyful Noise' rocks the season

  • December 9, 2010
messiah rocksMISSISSAUGA, Ont. - This Christmas season, Handel’s Messiah is going to rock the Toronto area.

George Frideric Handel’s musical oratorio on the life of the Messiah has been updated, adding some modern-day flash, to produce Handel’s Messiah Rocks: A Joyful Noise. It will be performed at the Living Arts Centre in Mississauga, Dec. 16 and 17.

The traditional Handel’s Messiah is told through passages of Scripture put to music. Written by German composer Handel with libretto by Charles Jennens, it was originally performed in 1742 and, since then, has been played around the world.

And while Handel’s Messiah Rocks continues in the original vein, it is surely a departure from the traditional sound. It adds some “Joyful Noise” through a rock band, including guitar, bass, drums and percussion, joining with a full orchestra and local choirs. But traditionalists need not worry, said Dani Davis, director and librettist of Handel’s Messiah Rocks. The similarities are actually greater than the differences,  

“It remains a hugely joyful and inspirational piece,” said Davis. “It incorporates all the original pieces of Messiah in lots of different ways. If you’re familiar with Handel’s Messiah, you’ll have fun finding all of the pieces in Handel’s Messiah Rocks.”

The 50-city tour began on Nov. 1 and ends Dec. 23. The back-to-back performances in Mississauga are the only Canadian dates on the tour. The show was originally performed in 2008 in Boston, was recorded and aired on PBS last December. It will continue to air on PBS this holiday season.

Davis said theatre-goers can expect to have a great time.

“They can expect to hear amazing music, first and foremost. They’re going to hear incredible orchestration and beautiful singing. They’re going to see a very beautiful physical production.

“And I think that no matter what one’s orientation to faith, I think what Messiah Rocks talks about — making peace in the world and loving those around you the best you can — I think that’s a message everybody can attest to. And I know for sure that’s what people carry away with them and I’m really honoured that we get to talk to people at the holiday season in that manner.”

But re-working the Messiah libretto wasn’t without its challenges, said Davis, who updated the lyrics to modern English from the King James traditional Old English.

{sa B002LFPA0M}“I knew that making the vernacular contemporary would bring the message of the Messiah even closer to our consciousness. It was such an exciting challenge to give a modern voice to those words.”

While the traditional Handel’s Messiah is two hours and 45 minutes long, Handel’s Messiah Rocks is under 90 minutes long, said Davis.

Davis said there’s one part of the tour that has struck a chord with the cast and crew.

“We work with local choirs on the piece so that’s actually been the best part of the whole tour: the interaction with the local singers and performers,” said Davis.

For the Mississauga performance, the two local choirs will be Heaven Sound, a Christian choir made up of graduates of the jazz program at Humber College, and the Mississauga Children’s Choir.

Kibwe Thomas, musical director of Heaven Sound, said the choir is honoured to be performing.

“We have so many non-Christian friends and an event like this is totally designed to attract people who don’t know about God or who aren’t sure,” he said. “There’s opportunity to spread the message to people that don’t already know.”

The 10-member Heaven Sound, joined by a number of local singers, will be performing seven songs. Meanwhile, the Mississauga Children’s Choir will be singing three songs, including one specially written for a children’s choir, “Here’s My Son.”

While the choir is made up of more than 150 kids, only 12 are needed for Handel’s Messiah Rocks. But performing for large audiences is nothing new to this group, with one of its recent performances being singing at Mississauga Mayor Hazel McCallion’s inauguration.

The singers, ranging from 12 to 15, are thrilled at the opportunity, said choir director Tom Bell.

As for audience reception, people are loving it, said Davis.

“They stand up every night and leave feeling inspired and feel like they’re having a wonderful holiday experience — precisely what we hoped for.”

The show won Emmy Awards in November from the Chicago/Midwest Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. Davis, along with co-creator Jason Howland, picked up the Outstanding Achievement or Individual Excellence Off Camera for a Music Composition/Arrangement.

Tickets range from $60 to $95 for adults, $30 to $50 for children. They can be purchased by calling (905) 306-6000 or visiting www.livingartscentre.ca.

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