HUBERTUS — For more than 40 hours in October and November, members of the Milwaukee Area Messiah Community Chorus and Orchestra (MAMCCO), dedicate their Monday nights to rehearsing for their annual presentation of Handel’s Messiah.

Brian Dearing, director of music at Grace Lutheran Church, Thiensville, right, is director of the Milwaukee Area Messiah Community Chorus and Orchestra. (Submitted photo courtesy Brian Dearing)

Brian Dearing, director of music at Grace Lutheran Church, Thiensville, right, is director of the Milwaukee Area Messiah Community Chorus and Orchestra. (Submitted photo courtesy Brian Dearing)

The organization, which consists of 80 singers and 21 orchestra members, is celebrating its seventh anniversary.

“We really expected it to be a one-year kind of thing,” said Marta Ballering, founding general manager.

In 2009, Ballering, who had performed the Messiah as a college student, reached out to churches in the Germantown area that may have interest in working together on such a presentation. Only a few people attended the first meeting, and they left with no place to present the work and no director to conduct.

Over time, however, the group found a director in Brian Dearing and locations in St. Gabriel Catholic Church, Hubertus, and Crossroads Presbyterian Church, Mequon.

The chorus is entirely volunteer-based with members coming from many area churches and with varying levels of musical experience. Since the organization is ecumenical in nature, it is the words of Handel’s music that drives the spirit of Christian living.

Stressing that the group creates presentations, not performances, Nikki Riggleman, a member of the chorus since its inception, said, “We present God’s Word to the community through the music.”

The relationship between St. Gabriel Church and the organization began in 2009, because one of the chorus members, a parishioner at St. Gabriel, asked if the space could be used for the performance. The parish, built in 2005, wanted to share its new space and spread God’s Word through music and agreed to become the ensemble’s venue.[su_pullquote align=”right”]If you go
The Milwaukee Area Messiah Community Chorus and Orchestra will hold two presentations of Handel’s Messiah this Advent season. They will present Friday Dec. 2 at 7:30 p.m. at St. Gabriel Church, 1200 St. Gabriel Way, Hubertus, and Sunday Dec. 4 at 2:30 p.m. at Crossroads Presbyterian Church, 6031 W. Chapel Hill Road, Mequon. [/su_pullquote]

Since then, parishioners have been part of the chorus every year. Fr. Chuck Hanel, former pastor of St. Gabriel, now pastor of Queen of Apostles Parish, Pewaukee, participated in the ensemble one year.

Ann Rodig, parish secretary at St. Gabriel, has attended the presentation many times, calling it “a renewal of faith” every time she attends. The ecumenical nature of the organization, she said, is also a great example of Christian living for those in the community and in St. Gabriel.

“You all share this common belief in Christ and in God, and whatever differences there may be are very minute,” she added.

Every year, Dearing, also the director of music at Grace Lutheran Church in Thiensville, prepares a different portion of the Messiah to present.

“There is no such thing as an official score. Handel changed it relatively frequently, inserting new pieces, taking new pieces out,” said Dearing, who began his career in 1979 as organist and choirmaster at St. Adalbert Catholic Church, Schenectady, New York, and has since served four Catholic and two Lutheran congregations in five cities in the United States and United Kingdom.

The one hour and 45 minute presentation includes the most notable parts of the Messiah such as the Hallelujah Chorus, but Dearing tries to change other sections, called variants, of the piece so people can hear and reflect on the many parts of the story of Christ’s birth, death and resurrection.

“We are presenting the story of salvation in scriptural form,” he said.

While there is no admission fee, those attending the two presentations are asked to consider a free-will donation to the Milwaukee Rescue Mission, an organization started in 1893, rooted in ecumenical Christian values.

“It’s got a very Christian focus. The whole idea is to feed and clothe the hungry of Milwaukee, not just physically, but spiritually,” Riggleman said.

While Ballering stressed that the presentation is free to the public, and donations are never required, MAMCCO allows for donations because they can become “a response to God’s Word” heard in the presentation. MAMCCO has helped raise more than $25,000 for the Milwaukee Rescue Mission in the last eight years.

Having this presentation during the holiday season has been successful for MAMCCO.

“It’s when people are most receptive,” Riggleman said.

“You can be at peace with the hubbub of the season,” Ballering added.

Looking forward to the presentations at the beginning of December, Dearing said practices have gone well. Performers, too, feel confident and humbled by the ability to perform such a complicated and renowned piece.

“It’s a labor of love for us,” Ballering said.

The words sung in the piece are powerful, said Dearing, adding attendees will also experience the atmosphere of a live performance.

“There is nothing like it,” he said. “It is an experience that when people have it, many are brought to tears by the presentation not because it’s sad, but because it’s so emotional and uplifting.”

“It’s the information, the beauty of the music, the saving Word of God, our belief in Jesus Christ,” Ballering said.

Dearing and his singers hope those who come to their presentations leave feeling Christ’s presence in some manner.

“I would hope there is at least one thing that can grab them of God’s word that they have not realized before. I think God’s words transforms lives even if it’s just sitting there and realizing the beauty that God has all around us,” Ballering said.

“I really hope they’re able to hear the words that we sing and that the Lord would give them ears to hear it,” Riggleman said.