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Monday, December 19, 2016

'Hallelujah! Hallelujah!' at the Metropolitan AME Church, Washington, DC

The Metropolitan A.M.E. Church, 1518 M Street, Washington, D.C./Photo from its website

The experience listening to Handel's Messiah sung by the United Voices of the Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church with four guest artists and the Metropolitan Chamber Orchestra was an unforgettable event, ethereal and captivating in every sense, leaving audience members (this was the 40th anniversary of the performance) enthralled by the magnificence of the quality and sound, the combination of voices and orchestra, and deeply moved, appreciative of the wealth of musical offerings in our nation's capital, and this one open to the public for free.

The United Voices of the Metropolitan A.M.E. Church sing Handel's Messiah/Photo by Patricia Leslie

Under the direction of Roland Carter, the 47 members of the choir beautifully conveyed the Messiah message in the most spectacular way, spellbinding those in the pews who listened intently, some joining the choir in "Hallelujahs!"  

During the movements, For Unto Us a Child is Born and Rejoice Greatly, O Daughter of Zion,  a member of the audience  on the orchestra level stood and, waving her hands and arms back and forth, sang out loudly several times "Thank you, Lord!" which the audience applauded, joined by some in the choir.
Tenor Devin Scott Mercer sings the movement, Comfort Ye My People, at the Metropolitan A.M.E. Church's performance of   Handel's Messiah/Photo by Patricia Leslie
The United Voices of the Metropolitan A.M.E. Church sing Handel's Messiah/ Photo by Patricia Leslie

Bass-baritone Andrew Smith sings the movement, Thus Saith the Lord from Handel's Messiah at the Metropolitan A.M.E. Church/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Mezzo-soprano Brittany Johnson on left and soprano Brandie Sutton wait to sing their solos at the presentation of Handel's Messiah at the Metropolitan A.M.E. Church. The program listed the Metropolitan Chamber Orchestra's horn players, Joshua Miller, Christian Atkins, Johnathan Neal, and Christopher Steele/Photo by Patricia Leslie

Edmond Charles, organist, was accompanied by 20+ members of the Chamber Orchestra, including the eloquent 
Sais Kamalidiin on the flute, and trumpeters Christian Atkins and Johnathan Neal whose performance in the Trumpet Shall Sound movement, I can still hear.

The soloists were stellar in their interpretations, proof of the wonderful cadre of Washington's music assemblage: tenor Devin Scott Mercer of Baltimore, bass-baritone Andrew Smith of the Duke Ellington School of the Arts, soprano Brandie Sutton who sings around the world, and mezzo-soprano Brittany Johnson, an elementary school music teacher, who, it seemed to me, is worthy of a continuous presence on opera's stages.
At the presentation of Handel's Messiah at the Metropolitan A.M.E. Church, the program listed Christopher Steele, trombonist, Christian Atkins and Johnathan Neal, trumpeters, and Joshua Miller, horn player/Photo by Patricia Leslie

The Metropolitan AME Church has its own special history told in the program and on its website: The denomination was founded in 1787 as a protest against segregated worship in Philadelphia which lay the groundwork for Metropolitan's beginnings in Washington in 1838

Known as the "National Cathedral of African Methodism," the church was constructed between 1880 and 1886 on what has become the oldest continuously black-owned property of the original ten-mile parcel of the District of Columbia.

From anti-slavery efforts and harboring runaway slaves during the Civil War, the church's outreach includes voter registration and literacy improvements, including the recognition of literary talent. 

Some notable preachers and visitors have included Frederick Douglas, Paul Laurence Dunbar,  Mary McLeod Bethune, Eleanor Roosevelt, James Clyburn, Jesse Jackson, Bishop Desmond Tutu, Vice Presidents Hubert Humphrey and Al Gore, and Presidents Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama and his family.

The national funeral service for Rosa Parks was held at Metropolitan on October 31, 2005, after her body lay in state at the U.S. Capitol, the first woman and the first American non-governmental official to be so honored.

A church receptionist said the annual Messiah performance is almost always hosted on the first Sunday in December which would be next December 3 under a full moon! Do you have your 2017 calendar marked?  I have marked mine.

Dr. Marty Austin Lamar is director of music at the church, and the pastor is William Lamar IV.

I am grateful to my friends, Niki and Eugenia, who told me about the concert at the church.


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