Skip to main content

What's Up Magazine

25th Messiah Sing-Along

Nov 20, 2011 09:12PM ● By Anonymous

Every Thanksgiving Sunday since 1987, folks who have sung in glee clubs, choruses or choirs pick up their thumbed and worn “Messiah” scores and head to a small historic church in southern Anne Arundel County.

There, without a rehearsal and directed by Michael S. Ryan, they sing once again the Christmas part of Handel’s “Messiah” accompanied by soloists and a chamber ensemble of professional and experienced musicians. It only takes about 75 minutes. Then they move to the parish hall to schmooze and mingle at a candlelight reception under a huge Christmas tree.

This year, on Nov. 27 at 4 p.m., they will do it for the 25th time. They will be welcomed again by the rector, the Rev. William H. C. Ticknor, to St. James’ Church in Lothian. It’s a brick church with a hand-plastered concave ceiling built in 1763 just 22 years after the music was written.

For many, it’s all about being unable to recognize the Christmas season until there’s a chance to sing the “Messiah.” And it’s because director Ryan makes the singers feel for one afternoon like part of a very special family coming together for a treasured tradition.

A professional musician and baritone who has sung worldwide, Ryan has directed the “Messiah” many times. But he knows that anything can happen – and does. “We almost had a train wreck last year,” he once announced, “but the altos saved us just before we ran off the track.”

He was the featured soloist for the United States Marine Band for 30 years, and has performed at the White House, at the Capitol, in opera, oratorio and in concert. After a second retirement as a music professor, he continues to direct three choirs and sing as a popular entertainer in the nation’s capital. He became the music director at St. James’ Parish early in 1987.

The tradition began later that year when a community sing-along held in Calvert County was discontinued because its director, Charles Dent, became ill with cancer. Ticknor and Ryan did not hesitate. They opened the doors of their church.

Dent and his community were invited to come and sing, as was every singer in the greater Annapolis area. And come they did, sometimes nearly 200 from as far away as Pennsylvania. One reviewer dubbed the singers as “the come-as-you-are chorus.” Dozens of churches and denominations are represented every year. The Annapolis Chorale always sends singers who know the whole work by heart.

The chamber ensemble includes well-known local pianist Eric Apland playing continuo and usually several current and former members of military bands. The soloists come from local and regional opera, choral and teaching backgrounds. A free will offering benefits the Salvation Army.

Before he died, Dent sang tenor solos. His wife, Mary Beth Dent, and son, David, who live in Annapolis, continue to sing every year at the event held in his memory. a freelance writer in Annapolis seeking a Messiah sing-along every year.