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UMS to perform Handel's 'Messiah' in time-honored tradition

By Grace Prosniewski, Daily Arts Writer
Published December 6, 2013

For many students and residents of Ann Arbor, the holiday season doesn’t really began until the annual performance of the epic masterpiece that is Frideric Handel’s “Messiah.”

First performed by the Choral Union in December 1879, the annual performance of the 1741 oratorio is one of the richest and most cherished traditions at the University.

The performance, conducted by Jerry Blackstone, features the talents of the UMS Choral Union in conjunction with the Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra. There are also several groups working behind the scenes to ensure the event carries on its long tradition, including the UMS Student Committee.

The committee works to connect the campus community to performing arts through the promotion of UMS events. Music, Theatre & Dance senior Rheme Sloan, president of the UMS student committee, spoke to the import of the performance to individuals, as well as to the Ann Arbor community as a whole.

“I personally love Handel’s ‘Messiah,’ ” Sloan said. “I sang it in choir throughout high school, so it’s like coming back to an old friend each year. When you hear ‘Messiah’ with the organ, soloists, orchestra and choir in Hill Auditorium, it’s utterly amazing. It’s like Ann Arbor’s own Radio City Christmas Spectacular, minus the sequins.”

As a complement to the performance, UMS is holding its third annual Ugly Sweater Party, part of the Arts & Eats program, at the University Alumni Center prior to the performance. The $15 ticket provides admission to the party, performance and, hopefully, a festive mood.

“We wanted something that was fun, engaging and a little quirky,” Sloan said. “The party is basically a pre-show holiday extravaganza.”

This year’s Ugly Sweater Party looks to capitalize on the success of past years by adding even more jolly events and swag. “This year, we’re doing holiday music trivia, and the winners get iTunes gift cards,” Sloan said.

So, hit up the nearest thrift stores or your grandmother’s closet, and experience the unique joy of embodying the word “tacky” while simultaneously getting some high culture.

“Events like these give students a new vantage point on what it means to experience classical music,” Sloan said. “It's not just going to a concert hall, sitting quietly and then leaving. These events provide an access point to not only UMS, but many genres of performing arts at very little cost. We try to eliminate barriers so students can have great experiences with the arts then take those experiences with them post-graduation.”

The continuation of a time-honored tradition with a fun, fresh component is what makes the event a distinctively Ann Arbor affair. The silliness of an ugly sweater party coupled with the majesty of the “Messiah” form an exceptional brand of holiday enjoyment. And that, according to Sloan, is the point.

“I want students to experience a ridiculously fun holiday party with tacky sweaters and some extraordinarily beautiful music afterwards,” Sloan said. “Everything else is bonus.”