Thank you to Sprite Writes for including me in the Virtual Advent Tour she has hosted for six years (you can visit her site daily for links to the day's post). For those who don’t know, Advent is a liturgical season leading up to Christmas which includes the four preceding Sundays. Today I want to share an Advent tradition I enjoyed the two years I was in graduate school at Duke.
At the center of Duke’s beautiful gothic West campus in Durham, North Carolina is its majestic chapel. Built in the 1930s, Duke Chapel features a 210-foot tower, a 50-bell carillon, 77 stained glass windows, three pipe organs, and wooden pew and chair seating for 1,600 people. In addition to hosting world-class musicians and artists, it has an outstanding choir that performs Handel’s Messiah every December (two classmates, Laura and Jeff, were able to join as graduate students).
When my dear friend Karen, who had been a Duke undergraduate suggested we get tickets, I reminded her that we had a big exam the next day. Accounting, my worst subject. She told me it was a tradition to go to Messiah during exams and that all the students would bring their books and luxuriate in the music while they studied. I am from a family that venerates Handel so I was pretty sure my mother would be appalled by this (she was) but it was a lovely experience. The setting, as you can see from these pictures, was gorgeous and serene. The music was amazing and, although I tried to memorize my accounting textbook, I mostly listened to the music and felt myself growing calmer after what had been a difficult semester.2020 was the eighty-eighth year of the annual presentation of Handel’s Messiah at Duke Chapel. They worked incredibly hard to blend live performances of arias and recitatives with virtual, sing-along choruses created from recordings from last year’s concerts. The online program included all of Part I—the Christmas portion—plus the “Hallelujah” chorus. The Music Director, Dr. Zebulon Highben, says, “Music and art in general can offer hope at a time when everyone is feeling the strain and the stress of the pandemic. And, Messiah in particular has such strong themes of hope for a weary world, as it retells the story of God’s enduring promise of salvation.”
Several final thoughts: Duke sent this link to the performance that is good until January 6, 2021. If you are a fan or if you’ve never listened to Messiah, I hope you can enjoy it and forget the stresses of the last 9 months for a few minutes.
Once in the choir, my classmate Jeff, through his family’s foundation, now helps fund this lovely tradition. I haven’t seen him for years but I plan to write to him to express my appreciation at being able to enjoy the annual performance from Massachusetts.
Duke Chapel is ecumenical and is enjoyed by students and employees of all faiths. The carillon continues to play even when the campus is quiet. Happy Advent!