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International Choral Scene


10 Reasons to Retire the Hallelujah Chorus.....especially with alumni!

I may have just said the unthinkable. No, I won't retract my statement. We can do better!

The Hallelujah Chorus, written by George Frideric Handel, is a wonderful piece of music. In fact, Handel's entire Messiah is undoubtedly one of the all-time great choral works. It has become the most common Winter Concert tradition at High Schools, Churches, and Community Choirs throughout the United States.

But just why did Handel's Hallelujah Chorus become the selection that choirs choose to repeat year after year? Why did this piece become the one that we invite our alumni to return and sing year after year?

It's time to look elsewhere.

Here are 10 reasons to retire the Hallelujah Chorus in your high school, community, or church choir

10. It’s been overdone, don’t you think?

If the appeal is that every other choir does it, feel free to continue with it. If we truly enjoy popping up randomly at malls and singing, then maybe this is still a good choice. If the reason to do it is because that is what has always been done, it probably sounds waaaaaay past it's prime when our group sings it.

9. We didn’t spend enough time preparing our singers

As it was thrown together last minute, hoping the alumni along with the pianist/band/orchestra (whichever arrangement is being used) will cover up all the wrong notes and out-of-tune singing……it won’t. It's rarely prepared the same way as our regularly scheduled program, as we assume our returning students will carry the weight.

8. Returning alumni will not be warmed up

Just know that they aren’t magically going to sing those high notes in tune after years of vocal inactivity. It's a difficult song and requires careful attention. This is not a song that can randomly be thrown together, and most choirs validate this point year after year.

7. Alumni have no idea what the actual notes are even supposed to be

Quite frankly, they probably didn’t know the correct notes when they were in high school, as it has always been thrown together.

6. No matter what we try to do, our pianist/organist will rush

It never stays together in the rehearsal, and with the alumni not watching and the added adrenaline from our current members, it isn't going to be any better at the performance.

5. If our high school band or orchestra is accompanying our choir, they too will decide mid-way through that they have a better tempo than the one we've provided

My old high school had two conductors: one on stage conducting the band and one conducting the choir. That spells success, doesn't it?

4. It’s intended for performance during the Easter season

It was written for charity and it's first performance was in April, with the intent to be during the Easter season. For more info, read this great article. Who was the first person to decide to close their Winter Holiday concert with this anyway?

*Addendum - I was just informed by a wonderful and insightful colleague that the resource I provided above is not accurate. The book to read to truly understand the intent of Handel's Messiah and the Hallelujah Chorus is: Handel's Oratorios and Eighteenth-Century Thought. Since I, myself, am unknowledgeable in Handel's true intent, I, too, will be reading to become properly informed.

3. Just because "Hallelujah" is sung over and over again along with a few bold “King of Kings”, doesn’t make this piece easy

It is quite difficult. If the comment that goes through our head at the end of the annual performance is, "we got through it!", just imagine what the audience is thinking. The only saving grace is that everyone collectively says "Hallelujah" at the end, but probably for different reasons than Handel had intended.

2. All it takes is one muff up from the piano/organ/band/orchestra at an inopportune place due to nerves or under-rehearsing, and the performance becomes a total disaster

Here is a perfect example: Hallelujah FAIL

1. There are so many other pieces that can be wonderful annual winter traditions, especially with alumni

There are numerous pieces that take far less time to learn, and alumni will be able to remember from year to year. These alternative pieces don’t require a full warm-up and can be used to build the sound of your choir. Perhaps new "traditional" songs can become the very core of our choir, rather than something thrown together as an afterthought. 

© Adam Paltrowitz