Could a centuries-old oratorio captivate the hearts of children?
Handel’s Messiah most certainly can!
In the world of classical music, George Frideric Handel’s oratorio Messiah stands as a timeless masterpiece. Written in just 24 days in 1741, its first performance was in Dublin, Ireland in 1742 as a charity event, and later, it made its way to Covent Garden in London. It has become a standard work performed during the Christmas season.
Beyond its beautiful melodies, there are compelling reasons to introduce children to this classical gem, from cultural enrichment to family connections.
Here are 7 reasons why parents should investigate Messiah oratorio with their children.
1. Cultural and Musical Education: Broadening Musical Horizons
In the age of digital tunes and electronic beats, fostering a love for classical music in children is a precious gift. Introducing kids to George Frideric Handel’s oratorio Messiah is like opening a door to a solid cultural and musical education. This composition doesn’t just expose them to classical melodies; it serves as a time machine, taking them back to the elegance and sophistication of the Baroque era.
As families investigate the harmonies and complexities of Messiah, they go beyond the music itself. This initial exposure to classical music becomes the groundwork for understanding different genres and styles, fostering an appreciation that sticks with them in their musical journey. By getting into Handel’s masterpiece, parents lay the foundation for their kids for a lifelong appreciation of the diverse world of classical music.
2. Historical Context: Connecting with the Past
Exploring George Frideric Handel’s enduring oratorio Messiah doesn’t just introduce a remarkable musical piece—it’s like stepping into the past. Learning about the historical context of Messiah gives kids a fascinating glimpse into the 18th-century music scene, Handel’s life, and the culture of that time.
As children listen to the compositions of Messiah, they’re transported to an era where music was written at the request of royalty and nobility or used in church, so the music sounds grand and fancy. This historical perspective not only enhances their grasp of the oratorio but also fosters a deeper appreciation for the cultural backdrop that influenced Handel’s work. By delving into history, parents offer their kids more than just musical insights; they provide a profound understanding of the interplay between art, history, and the human spirit.
3. Introduction to Oratorios: Exploring Musical Narratives
Within classical music, there are many forms of compositions. Messiah is a prime example of an oratorio, a musical work which tells a story through music and words but without the sets and costumes of an opera, and is for chorus, orchestra and vocal soloists. Becoming familiar with this famous oratorio broadens children’s knowledge of musical genres and forms beyond more familiar ones like symphonies and operas. Through experiencing Handel’s masterpiece, children not only get a taste of the magic of oratorios but also start a journey that deepens their understanding of the expansive and expressive world of musical composition.
4. Language and Literature: Journeying through Biblical Texts
Since many oratorios draw their text from biblical sources, learning about the oratorio can be an opportunity for children to explore language and literature from religious texts, potentially sparking interest in history and storytelling.
Messiah may have partly stood the test of time because Handel used an English libretto (text) rather than German (for though Handel was German, he lived in England when he composed Messiah and for much of his life.) The text of Messiah is entirely from the Bible and is a musical picture of the Christian understanding of the Messiah, the Chosen One, Jesus Christ and a narrative of his life.
Handel skillfully brings out the meaning of the Scriptures with his music, so through Messiah, parents give their children the opportunity to explore the beauty of language, nurturing a love for literature and a profound appreciation for the seamless intertwining of words and music that defines the world of oratorios.
5. Exposure to Christian Truths: Building Faith with Music
Handel’s Messiah tells the gospel (good news) of Jesus Christ’s sacrifice of himself to save sinners. It is like a play (without sets or talking) describing the prophecies of the coming Messiah, his arrival as a baby in the person of Christ, his ministry, suffering, death, resurrection, and ascension, his sacrifice for man’s sin, and his giving his believers eternal life and resurrected bodies. It also tells of the victory of God over those who reject him, for He reigns and is the King of kings and Lord of lords.
Messiah is divided into three parts.
- Part 1 delves into prophecies about Christ’s coming, his birth, and early ministry.
- Part 2 narrates the account of Jesus’ crucifixion, resurrection, ascension, and the triumph of the gospel.
- Part 3 offers a glimpse into eternal life and the ultimate victory over sin.
Exploring Messiah is a perfect way to reinforce the truth of the gospel to our children through the beauty of Scripture and music together.
6. Development of Listening Skills: Enhancing Auditory Discrimination
Listening to the compositions of Messiah enhances a child’s auditory discrimination and listening skills. The intricate melodies and dynamic compositions of Messiah give kids a chance to refine their ability to hear and understand music. As they immerse themselves in the complex musical landscape, children get better at recognizing different instruments, catching subtle nuances in melodies, and understanding how the volume and intensity of the music change. Through the transformative notes of Messiah, parents not only share the joy of music with their children but also give them a valuable skill—being attentive listeners—that proves beneficial in various aspects of their academic and creative pursuits.
7. Participation in Cultural Traditions: Experiencing Joyous Celebrations of Christmas and Easter
Originally intended for Easter, the performance of Messiah became a Christmas tradition during the Victorian era in Britain, and this tradition persists today. For children and their families, learning about and participating in the cultural tradition of Messiah during Christmas and Easter becomes a joyous and festive experience. The oratorio’s jubilant choruses and reverent arias resonate with the spirit of the season, adding a musical touch to the joy of celebrations.
For Unto Us a Child is Born is an especially well-loved chorus from the Christmas portion of Messiah.
The famous chorus Hallelujah Chorus is from the Easter portion of the oratorio.
Sharing the experience of learning about Messiah as a family can also create meaningful memories. Attending performances, discussing the music, and exploring related topics together can strengthen family bonds.
Investigating Messiah Oratorio
Since the words for the songs in Messiah (the libretto) are all directly from the Bible and give a progression through the prophecies about Jesus Christ, his birth, his role as Savior, his death, resurrection and ascension, Messiah makes an excellent place to begin devotionals with children for Advent and the Easter season.
Listening to and studying Messiah will greatly encourage Christian families, but even if you are not a person of faith, you will be blessed by Messiah, as it is an essential work of music for students of music to study.
At Jus’ Classical, we offer a unit study on Messiah called Investigating Messiah Oratorio. This unit study also works well as an Advent devotional since it has 25 days of lessons. Each lesson focuses on a scene in the narrative of Christ’s life with one to three Scriptures and songs to listen to.
These lessons are also paired with artwork of the scenes depicted in Messiah oratorio. You and your child will be exposed to great music and art in this unit study or Advent devotional.
As a family, you can read the Scriptures for the day and then listen to a few short pieces which highlight those Scriptures. Also, observe the artwork paired with the day’s text for a deeper artistic study.
If you want to study more, pick up Investigating Messiah Oratorio.
Samples from Messiah
This first piece is the Overture or introduction to the oratorio – it is just the orchestra.
For Unto Us a Child is Born
You will probably recognize this next song that is played during the Christmas season, For Unto Us a Child is Born from Messiah.
Listen to the voices as they sing many notes on the word “born” – that fancy and decorated sound of the Baroque era.
What other words do you hear?
This version includes a pipe organ – notice the large pipes behind the choir and the organist playing.
The Glory of the Lord
The Glory of the Lord is another chorus from Messiah.
What words do you hear in this chorus?
You will see a harpsichord in the middle of the orchestra as was common in Baroque orchestras.
Probably the most famous part of Messiah is the Hallelujah Chorus. This is from the Easter portion of Messiah, celebrating Christ’s resurrection.
This is the piece where King George II stood up as he listened because he was enjoying himself so much. And when the king stands up, everyone else has to stand up too. Now every time this song is played, everyone stands up to listen out of respect to King George whether he is there or not!
Notice that everyone in the audience stands up to listen!
Introducing a child to George Frideric Handel’s Messiah is not just about music—it’s a practical journey into culture, history, faith and holiday celebrations. Journey into joy with Handel’s Messiah this year!
It is said that when Handel was working on the Hallelujah Chorus, Handel exclaimed, “I did think I saw heaven open, and saw the very face of God!” May you be blessed by listening to Messiah that you may also see the face of God!