Sarah Dempsey: ‘Hallelujah’ a long-standing tradition

December 21, 2013 

While I am sorry that the writer of the Dec. 12 letter “Ballet boors” had her view obstructed during a recent performance of Handel’s “Messiah,” I have to point out that the origin of standing during the Hallelujah Chorus is unknown. I’ve stood for countless performances and never once from a place of piety!

One story says that George II, so moved by the music at the London premiere in 1743, rose to his feet during this movement of the oratorio and flustered theatergoers followed suit. However, no records prove his presence at that performance.

Some music historians contend that it was the format of Handel’s long work that brought audiences to their feet, not only during the Hallelujah Chorus, but during other chorales as well. Conductor Robert Shaw suggested full bladders were the real culprits.

Regardless, this tradition has been in existence since it was first documented in 1756. I do not disagree with the letter-writer’s choice to remain seated. I can understand her frustration at not being able to see the performance. However, to assert that the motivations and actions of those participating in this 350-year-old tradition were an infringement upon, or even an expression of, religious rights is a bit of a stretch.

Sarah Dempsey, Cary

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