Christ’s life set to music

Bebe Kok raises her baton as 93 sets of lungs simultaneously draw in deep breaths of air. The notes and words that follow weave a story of the life of Jesus Christ — his birth, his ministry, his persecution and his death.

The Alabama Civic Chorale (ACC) will present its 61st-annual performance of George Frideric Handel’s beloved Messiah on Sunday, Nov. 23 at 3 p.m. at Riverchase United Methodist Church in Hoover.

“We don’t just perform from year to year. We study what Handel intended with each note,” Kok said. “ Handel entrusted his masterful work of inspiration to performers that came after him, and we must do our part to tell the whole story as he intended.”

Kok said Handel used the melancholy note of G Minor in Behold the Lamb to represent the suffering of the lamb on the cross.

But when he wanted to write a praise piece, he would use D Major for the Hallelujah Chorus.

Kok’s parents, Earl and Frances Clark, created the ACC in the late 1940s.

A high school choral group and a church youth choir traveled to a music conference in Ridgecrest, N.C. where they, along with numerous adult choirs, studied and performed Handel’s Messiah.

When they returned home they continued the production and grew year by year.

“They (the ACC) went on to do a lot of other works but it was Messiah that they kept coming back to every fall,” Kok said. “It became a tradition that people couldn’t live without and it draws all of us back together each year.”

Since taking over as director, Kok has grown attendance of the performance to 1,000-plus every year.

Messiah itself was first performed in Dublin, Ireland in 1742. The ACC’s production is performed in the same way Handel himself presented his musical masterpiece.

He rarely performed his two-and-a-half hour Messiah in its entirety. This year the chorale will perform 14 of the work’s choruses.