PENINSULA SPOTLIGHT: Handel with Care benefits Sequim aid agency

SEQUIM — You see the word “joy” a lot during December.

This Wednesday night, you can count on hearing what it sounds like, expressed to the fullest, in a two-hour experience that has lost none of its impact over the past two and a half centuries.

On the North Olympic Peninsula, for the 11th time, voices of all kinds will gather to perform selections from Handel’s “Messiah” oratorio, in the benefit for Sequim Community Aid known as Handel with Care.

The venue for this do-it-yourself “Messiah” is Trinity United Methodist Church, 100 S. Blake Ave., and everyone is welcome to sing in or listen to the concert from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Admission is a donation to Sequim Community Aid, the charity that has been helping needy local families for more than 50 years now.

Accompanying the singers will be the Handel with Care orchestra, led by maestro Dewey Ehling. And this time as in years past, the conductor, singers and musicians are joining in their own chorus of praise for the event.

Cathy Lear first sang the “Messiah” as a soprano in the community chorus when she was in high school in Vermont; she’s been singing in Handel with Care for years, and still uses the same beat-up old musical score she had as a teenager.

“These days my voice is alto, but my memory is soprano, which makes for an awkward combination,” she added. “One of last year’s great delights was finding the altos and singing with them. I can hardly wait to sing with them again.”

A few Christmases back, Lear’s parents came to visit her in Port Angeles. “When it came time to depart for the ‘Messiah,'” she recalled, “rain poured down on the roof and wind howled past the windows. I said I did not want to go out in such a storm.”

To which her mother replied, “I have sung the ‘Messiah’ every year since I was in high school, and a little rain is not going to stop me now.” Off they went.

Violinist Kate Dean has played in every Handel with Care since the first one at Easter 2000. “I feel as though I’m visiting an old friend who always lifts my spirit,” she said. One of the best parts of the sing-along, for Dean, is its ecumenical nature. “Those who come to sing range from semi-professionals to people who can barely read music. The purpose is simply to enjoy the musical moment,” she said.

Another violinist, Mary Moon, is also a solo vocalist — and an admirer of Handel’s brilliance.

“He said that it was as if the music was being poured into him from an outside source . . . that he could hardly make his pen write fast enough to keep up with the flow of music coming into his mind,” she noted. “I feel that inspiration and heart every time.”

At Handel with Care, “the atmosphere is relaxed and easy,” Moon added. “Come and sight read to the best of your ability and be part of the fun, not to mention the fact that donations from the evening support Sequim Community Aid.

“I would encourage people to come, have the time of their life and support a local charity. It doesn’t get any better than that.”

Bobbie Usselman of Sequim, who plays clarinet in six local ensembles from the Stardust Big Band to the Port Townsend Community Orchestra, first came to Handel with Care about six years ago — to sing. Ehling encouraged her to join the orchestra, and she’s found this concert to be a particularly invigorating one.

“There is different energy in the room during the sing-along,” Usselman said. “Maybe you have never sung it, or haven’t sung the piece since high school … you can sit next to someone who has sung it who will help you through. It makes it easy to perform again,” she added. “This is your chance to sing your heart out with no stress of perfection.”

Shirley Anderson, a retired schoolteacher who is one of Handel with Care’s volunteer organizers, said the event’s fundraising impact has grown steadily over the past decade. The first one raised a few hundred dollars; from 2001 to 2005 the revenue hovered around $1,000 per year. In 2007 a local couple made an anonymous gift, matching every dollar donated by concert-goers, so the total that year reached $2,500. Last year was the best ever, with $4,500 raised including the couple’s match.

The anonymous donors are back this year, Anderson said. They’re unable to attend Handel with Care, but have pledged to donate $1 for every $1 given by those who do come.

Anderson and other Sequim Community Aid volunteers are grateful for these gifts, especially as many local families struggle to make ends meet. Sequim Community Aid provides assistance with basic needs, such as rent and utility bills, to residents of the Sequim School District.

To learn more about the organization, phone 360-681-3731. Its mailing address is P.O. Box 1591, Sequim, WA 98382.

Anderson noted too that Handel’s “Messiah” has long been performed as a fundraiser. The oratorio’s 1742 premiere was a charity benefit in Dublin, Ireland, and one of the best-known versions is from a 1754 concert for the Foundling Hospital in London.

When Handel with Care is in full voice, and the Trinity church is vibrating with the Hallelujah chorus, Anderson’s heart fills, too.

“I can feel everyone who came before us: Handel and all his teachers; all of us and all of our families and teachers; all those powerful feelings in that room,” she said. “Something good is happening.”

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