The Best of Auntie Mae’s Various Ramblings on Life in a Small Town Series

Ida Mae Nowes

Nubbins Special Correspondent 

One of my favorite holiday traditions is going to the community performance and sing-along of highlights from Handel’s “Messiah.”    

Early in November a little blurb always appears in the Nubbins Gazette announcing that rehearsals for the musical event are beginning and are open to all musicians and singers who want to participate. Those lucky souls go to rehearsals every week, practicing the parts so somebody knows what they’re doing during the performance. For those of you who have never heard this beautiful collection of songs, it’s no “Jingle Bells.” The music is complicated … and amazing.

I, of course, don’t get to be one of those lucky souls, seeing as I couldn’t hold a tune with a pair of pliers and an oven mitt. But that doesn’t mean I don’t get to enjoy listening to it on the evening of the performance. That’s the beauty of these community sing-alongs. The group up front makes it sound good, but the people in the audience get to join in if the spirit moves them. And whose spirit would fail to be moved by such joyous song?

This year’s Messiah Sing-Along was held the Saturday evening after Thanksgiving. The churches trade off hosting it, and this year the Presbyterians got their turn. Merl and I were going to take his mother along with us, but the weather turned blustery and cold, so she decided to stay home. But Merl and I bundled up and went, the frigid wind making the inside of the pine-scented, candle-lit church all the more warm and festive.

Up front was a small orchestra of cellos, violins, and a few brass instruments played by a mix of people from 13-year-old Sissy Wells on flute up to Leonard Hatmaker – probably past 90 – on the trombone. Nubbins is a small town, after all. Beside them stood a choir of about 20 people, wearing burgundy robes with white silk v-neck stoles. At the piano sat Nellie Ruth Hawthorne, wearing a green sweater with Santa flying off her back in his sleigh.

Strewn about the pews were well-worn copies of the music, in case audience members wanted to follow along and sing, which was encouraged. Just as the lights dimmed, Elvada Bunch, the conductor, came out and picked up her baton. The Overture started, a little tentative at first (and a couple of extra blasts from Leonard), but then gathering momentum.

Everything was going along so beautifully, the thought occurred to me that even I might join in on some of the chorus parts. But then, right in the middle of “For Unto Us a Child Is Born,” the lights suddenly went out. The music continued on weakly for a measure or two until people realized that neither those playing instruments nor the singers could see their music, and the song petered out, with one last little bleat from Leonard. Only the flickering candles along the windows in the sanctuary gave off any light.

People began muttering, wondering what to do. I felt a sense of deep disappointment, thinking that I might have to go home without hearing the “Hallelujah Chorus.” Then someone took charge.

“Get some flashlights and candles,” he said, and those who knew where such items are kept or who had them in their car went to get them. Merl and I just looked at each other and shrugged. 

People are so resourceful when they need to be. Miraculously, within 10 minutes they had collected enough flashlights and candles to illuminate the music for the determined musicians. The audience was out of luck, but most of them had been attending this thing for 30-plus years, so they knew the important parts. 

The music started back up, and there was a new element of excitement and camaraderie to it. No one wanted this special evening to end and it hadn’t, even with a power outage. When the choir got to “He Shall Feed His Flock Like a Shepherd” (my personal favorite), I closed my eyes and let the music wash over me.

Finally it was time for the last song – the “Hallelujah Chorus” – so rousing, everyone stands up during the whole chorus. The music began and we rose from our seats, just as the lights blazed back on. Everyone looked like they wanted to cheer, but instead they just kept singing, stronger than ever. Even I couldn’t keep it in any more. I opened up my mouth and let my rusty old barbed-wire voice join in. Merl took my hand and we sang it together. At that moment, it was the most beautiful thing I’d ever heard.

“Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Ha – lle – lu – jah!”