LC ‘Messiah’ Chorus and Orchestra readies for 82nd performance on Sunday

Published 8:40 am Thursday, November 30, 2023

Continuing a long-standing tradition, the Lake Charles Messiah Chorus and Orchestra will be presenting the 82nd performance of George Frideric Handel’s “Messiah” at 3 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 3 in F.G. Bulber Auditorium on the McNeese State University Campus.

Lake Charles’ “Messiah” performance is the second longest annual performance in the United States and the longest tradition at McNeese. It was instituted by McNeese professor Francis G. Bulber in the late 1930s after he moved to Southwest Louisiana and was given the task to create music education opportunities for local youth. This story comes from his daughter, Colette Bulber Tanner, who now conducts the performance.

“Back then, ministers from area churches would even cancel their evening services so that their congregations could attend the performance. Through the last eight decades, the annual performance has changed many times in perspective. … The magnitude of how many people have been touched by this project is staggering.”

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For the Bulbers, “Messiah” has always been a family affair. Colette performed alongside her brother, two sisters and mother Patricia Bulber in the Lake Charles Messiah Chorus many times. She said that now her husband and sons perform as well.

“To be able to perform this masterpiece in the auditorium that is named in honor of my father’s innumerable contributions to McNeese State University and to the area, is such a fantastic opportunity. It is like coming home.”

Constance Darbone, who has sung alto for 22 years, has had a similar experience. Both her parents and children have performed, contributing to the tradition of third and fourth generations joining the chorus.

She recalled the excitement her mother and father felt every year when it was time to begin practicing.

“My parents drove in from Lake Arthur every Monday night for weeks to sing in it, and he would be in his propane truck making deliveries singing ‘Messiah’ at the top of his lungs.”

The Lake Charles Messiah Chorus and Orchestra practices every Monday for four weeks up until the performance, with members coming in from throughout the five-parish area. Performers’ ages range from teens to adults in their 90s.

Darbone sees the “Messiah” performance as a woven tapestry, a blend of not only the Old and New Testaments, but also the voices of Southwest Louisiana.

“Messiah seems to be the glue that brings us all together to celebrate a very important event, Christmas. … It’s tight knit, and it’s something that lasts.”

Colette said that the season of Christmas does not start until Handel’s “Messiah” is performed. It was composed in 1741 and is made up of three sections that “depict the prophecy of Christ’s birth, his Passion and death, his Resurrection, and the glory of God’s Kingdom being opened for us.”

The performance is over an hour long – including the beloved “Hallelujah Chorus -and features approximately 60 chorus members and 20 orchestra members. Eight soloists – six being McNeese students – will be featured: Juan Campos, Whitney Chaumont, Crystal Quest Gray, Molly Jones, Steele Koonce, Joshua Noyola, Shane Thomas and Jacob Voisin.

The “Messiah” performance is free and open to the public.