After a third of a century of inviting the audience to join the performance, the 33rd annual Redwood Empire "Sing-Along Messiah" once again gave music lovers cause to shout "Hallelujah!"
Dan Earl, who has conducted the "Sing-Along Messiah" for all but one of those 33 years, led more than 200 singers onstage in Saturday night's concert at the Spreckels Performing Arts Center in Rohnert Park.
But the performers didn't have to do it alone. A sold-out audience of about 500 people sang along, by invitation.
Ushers handed out songbooks as ticket-holders filed in and found seats in the soprano, alto, bass or tenor sections. When cued by Earl, the entire audience rose and sang.
"We can sing some parts, when we're invited," said audience member Mike McIntosh of Rohnert Park with a grin, "and maybe we can hum a little, too."
Earl seemed pleased with the audience's performance. He turned and said from the stage, "You should be proud."
Before the concert, Earl said the experience of performers and audience singing together has a unique charm.
"It's amazing, really. It brings people together. You're sitting next to someone you don't know, in many cases, and you're sharing this," he said.
For audience participation, the high point was the famed "Hallelujah" chorus, with voices filling the entire hall.
"Every time it comes to the 'Hallelujah' chorus, it's a much different sound," Earl said.
Despite the egalitarian design of the event, the most difficult passages of George Frideric Handel's 1741 choral masterpiece — a celebration of the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ — were left to the experts.
The singers onstage included the Santa Rosa Symphonic Chorus, directed by Earl, and the Santa Rosa Junior College and Chamber Singers, directed by Jody Benecke, accompanied by the Santa Rosa Chamber Orchestra, directed by Nicholas Xenelis.
The concert also featured five soloists, and the Maria Carrillo High School Chamber Singers.
The audience also included singers from local choirs.
"Over the years, we have tried to encourage church choirs to participate, and singers from many other choirs come," Earl said.
Saturday's audience included Janet Bertoli, director of the Bethlehem Lutheran Church choir in Santa Rosa.
"I have sung the 'Messiah' before," she said, "but I've never participated in a sing-along 'Messiah' before. I wanted to see what it was like."
You can reach Staff Writer Dan Taylor at 521-5243 or firstname.lastname@example.org.