Patrons line up early outside of the Bob Carr Performing Arts Centre in downtown Orlando for the free concert performance of Handel's Messiah. (Photo by R.T. Robeson).
Patrons line up early outside of the Bob Carr Performing Arts Centre in downtown Orlando for the free concert performance of Handel’s Messiah. (Photo by R.T. Robeson).

ORLANDO — It was a cherished Orlando gift to the entire community — and has been for more than four decades.
It was, Betsy Hoagg noted, an event that had become a tradition at the start of the holiday season in Orlando, a view reflected in the fact that a crowd of more than 2,000 showed up to see it at the Bob Carr Performing Arts Centre on Sunday afternoon.
“It has become a tradition which we all share,” Hoagg said.
The event was the Messiah Choral Society hosting its 41st annual performance of composer George Frideric Handel’s “Messiah,” held at the Bob Carr Sunday afternoon. Conductor John V. Sinclair, the society’s music director for the past 26 years, led the string section, the huge chorus, and the four solo vocalists through a concert that was open to the public, free of charge, with seating available on a first-come, first-served basis.
The crowds started showing up outside Bob Carr a good hour before the doors to the theater opened, and the seats went quickly.
“Messiah” is the English-language oratorio composed in by Handel in 1741, using a text compiled from the King James Bible, and first performed in Dublin on April 13, 1742. It has since become one of the most frequently performed choral works in Western music, and a favorite of audiences around Christmas time.
The Messiah Choral Society is a non-profit civic organization based in Winter Park, that is now celebrating its 41st season. Hoagg, the president of the society, noted at the start of the concert that the singers who make up the chorus have put in countless weekend hours preparing for this one annual show.
“They have devoted each Sunday afternoon to bring us all here today,” she said.
The oratorio was performed in its entirety during two acts, and it brought the entire audience to its feet when it reached the “Hallelujah Chorus.” The singers included sopranos Julia Foster and Morgan Davis, tenor Bryon Grohman and bass Gabriel Preisser. The string section was made up of musicians skilled at violin, viola, cello, bass, oboe, bassoon, trumpet and harpsichord. The conclusion of the concert brought a standing ovation to the singers and musicians alike.
Hoagg said anyone inspired by the society’s work should consider joining them.
“We always welcome new members,” she said.
At the same time, the society each year raises funds to not only continue its mission to bring a free performance of Handel’s Messiah to the greater Orlando community, but also to assist another cause: to accept donations of canned goods and other foods for Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida, the charitable organization located at 1918 W. Princeton St. in Orlando.
The public was encouraged to show up for the concert, not only to join the society members in celebrating the holidays, but also by bringing nonperishable canned or packaged food to the performance.
“Thank you so much for your magnificent generosity,” Hoagg told the audience. “We truly appreciate it, and we know they will as well at Second Harvest.”
The society also used the occasion to sell a wide selection of Aunt Ruby’s gourmet nuts in the lobby to help pay for next year’s free concert.
Hoagg also noted, “If this day inspires you, we invite you to join us for a Messiah Sing-along on Friday, April 11 2014 at Rollins College to test the waters. Perhaps you will be bitten by the Messiah bug and take your place alongside us on the stage of the Bob Carr next year.”
To make a donation to Second Harvest Food Bank this Christmas season, call them at 407-295-1066.

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