What is Handel’s Messiah?


Written in 1741, Messiah is George Frideric Handel’s best-known oratorio and presents the scriptural account of the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. Though written by Handel for the Easter season, Messiah has become more commonly performed as a Christmas-time event. Typically, Messiah is performed in a concert venue by professional musicians, soloists, and a chorus.

What is the Do-It-Yourself Messiah?
The Do-It-Yourself Messiah is an annual event in Chicago, introduced in 1976 by Al Booth and produced by the organization he founded, the International Music Foundation. In it, the music of Messiah is provided by Chicago-area musicians who volunteer their talents to provide orchestral support both for the professional soloists, as well as – in a surprising twist – a chorus composed entirely of the members of the audience!
What makes the Do-It-Yourself Messiah different from other productions of Messiah?
The Do-It-Yourself Messiah invites all attendees to participate in the production of the oratorio, by stepping into the role of the chorus along with over one thousand other amateur participants. Attendees are encouraged to sing all the chorus portions of Messiah (excepting those the conductor may choose to exclude).
Can I still attend if I have no ticket for the event?


You need a ticket to enter the Harris Theater. In past years, individuals wishing to participate who were unable to obtain a ticket before the event were invited to wait in a “stand-by” line until shortly before show time. Tickets returned to the facility by ticket-holders unable to attend the event (“turn-back tickets”) were provided to those waiting in line on a first-come, first served basis. In cases where empty seats were still available as the event was about to start, the facility offers “Rush tickets” to fill those open seats. They are “cash only” tickets – no credit card purchases – and they cost $15. No guarantees of seating can be made for those who cannot obtain a ticket before show time, though in the past all who wanted to participate have been accommodated. If you arrive at the Harris Theater without a ticket for the event, ask the staff at the theater to direct you to the standby area for those without a ticket.

Can anyone attend the Do-It-Yourself Messiah?
Because of the length and nature of the event, it is not suitable for young children. Otherwise, the Do-It-Yourself Messiah is open to everyone with a valid ticket for the event.
Do I need to read music to sing in the Do-It-Yourself Messiah?
Not exactly, but it is rather important that you be able to follow music. In a section with hundreds of singers singing the same part, it is important to sing in unison with your fellows. This requires being familiar enough with your copy of the Messiah score to recognize how long notes should be sung, and at what pitch. If you cannot directly read the score, we recommend practicing with our choral tutor CDs.
Are there qualifications to participate in the Do-It-Yourself Messiah?
No. The Do-It-Yourself Messiah is open to the general public. No auditions or other requirements need to be met in order to come and sing – though a decent voice and knowledge of the work helps!
What do I need in order to prepare for the Do-It-Yourself Messiah?
At a minimum, you will need a personal copy of the score of Messiah to participate meaningfully in the Do-It-Yourself Messiah. The conductor will assume you have a copy of the edition from the G. Schirmer classical music distribution company – the “Schirmer Edition” of the score. Copies of the score will be available for purchase at the Harris Theater on the night of the event. To purchase in advance, see retailers listed on this page or try your local library! We recommend you become familiar with the choruses of Messiah in order to maximize your enjoyment of the Do-It-Yourself Messiah, and the enjoyment of those sitting near you! Practicing with choral tutor CDs or similar aids can build your confidence and singing accuracy.
Which part of the Messiah score should I plan to sing?
The score is organized into four vocal parts. In general, women with a high vocal range should sing the Soprano part; those with a lower range should sing the Alto part. Men with a high vocal range should sing the Tenor part; those with a lower range should sing the Bass part. The Messiah has a fairly high Bass part; those with a moderate (baritone) vocal range may find the Bass part easier to sing than the Tenor part. Similarly, the Soprano part may be high for some mid-range women’s voices; mezzo-sopranos will likely be most comfortable singing the Alto part.
How is the audience/chorus seated at the Do-It-Yourself Messiah?
All tickets are for general admission open seating. The theater is divided into four sections, and signage in the lobby will direct you to the correct section for your voice. Each singer seats him/herself based upon which of the four vocal parts (Soprano, Alto, Tenor, or Bass) he or she will sing. All basses are seated in the audience in the sections facing the right-hand side of the stage (house right). Tenors are seated to the left of the basses, and altos to the left of the tenors, sopranos sit in the sections to the left of the altos, facing the left-hand side of the stage. Within your section, seating is unassigned. Feel free to take any open seat in your section. The Harris Theater is an intimate 1,500 seat venue with excellent sightlines and acoustics throughout the house.
Is the Do-It-Yourself Messiah a lot of fun?
YOU BET! [Our thanks to Mike Hammond for compiling our FAQ’s.]
Do I need to know all the music in the Messiah score to participate?

No. The chorus (the audience, in this case) is only responsible for singing the choruses from Messiah. Portions of the score marked as ‘Recitative’ or ‘Air’ are sung from the stage by the professional soloists. For reasons of brevity (and due to some choral meltdowns in past years), the conductor may choose to exclude certain choruses from the Do-It-Yourself Messiah. In the past few years, the following choruses have been excluded:

He Trusted in God
Let All the Angels of God
The Lord Gave the Word
Their Sound is Gone Out
Let Us Break their Bonds Asunder
But Thanks Be to God

How do I get to the Harris Theater?


The Harris Theater for Music and Dance is located at 205 E. Randolph Drive at the north end of Millennium Park in downtown Chicago. Driving directions to local parking and directions using Metra and CTA are available at the Harris Theater website.

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