Messiah in the Mountains: When Vermonters First Sang Hallelujah

A capacity crowd stands for the “Hallelujah” Chorus at the finale of Handel’s “Messiah,” an annual holiday concert at Rutland’s Grace Congregational Church, conducted by Alastair Stout.
Photo by Arthur Zorn

Originally published in the Times Argus/Rutland Herald Weekend Magazine, December 18, 2021 for the “Remember When” column with the title, “Hallelujah!: When the Messiah came to Vermont.”

On May 7, 1822, Thomas P. Matthews, “Sec’y” of the Addison County Musical Society placed an ad for their “Annual Concert at the Meeting House in Middlebury.” Extending a “general invitation” to “all Choirs in the County,” he also specifically and “respectfully invite(d) the assistance of Ladies acquainted with the music.”

What music would that be? Well, not what you might expect in the valleys and hillsides of a sparsely populated, farm-dotted state 3,000 miles away from Europe: Handel’s “Messiah,” the “Grand Hallelujah Chorus” and excerpts of Part III, to be exact.

Three centuries later, for the descendants of those Middlebury singers, as it is for many Americans, “Messiah” has become as synonymous with Christmas as Santa Claus and eggnog.

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