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More than 500 people attend annual Redwood Empire Sing-Along ‘Messiah’

Things were a little different at Sunday afternoon’s Redwood Empire Sing-Along “Messiah” than in other years.

For one, this was the first time the performance of Handel’s oratorio, supported by the Santa Rosa Symphony League, happened on a Sunday afternoon rather than a Saturday.

For another, the singalong afternoon began with a dedication to the late Eugene Shepherd, a beloved local conductor, violinist and music teacher who died Thursday.

At the beginning of the show, Dan Earl, past director of the Santa Rosa Symphonic Chorus and who conducted Sunday afternoon’s performance, asked the audience to stand and sing along to the “Hallelujah Chorus,” in Shepherd’s memory.

“Perhaps with that rendition of the ‘Hallelujah Chorus,’ Gene doesn’t need to rest in peace,” Earl said to warm laughter from the crowd.

The rest of the show continued in an easy and jovial manner, as the audience of more than 500 repeatedly stood on cue to join in the program performed by the Santa Rosa Symphonic Chorus, the Santa Rosa Chamber Orchestra and the Santa Rosa Junior College Concert Choir and Chamber Singers.

Occasionally Earl, who has conducted it annually since its second year in 1981, would interject witty quips, making it feel all the more festive.

“You should be thinking, ‘Oh boy, it’s my turn!’” he said to the audience just before a cue.

Sophia McCann, 8, was there with her mother and father, Wendi and Hugh McCann.

Hugh grew up in Petaluma, though the family now lives in Santa Rosa, and he’s been attending the show off and on for decades, so bringing Sophia along for the first time marked the continuation of a family tradition.

“We listen to Handel’s ‘Messiah’ at home, and we love hearing it,” Wendi McCann said. “We love hearing about him and it’s a lot of scripture in the song, a lot of Bible verses, so we love that, getting to sing God’s word.”

Sophia, who is home-schooled, recently took up both piano and tin whistle lessons.

Her verdict on the 2 1/2-hour-long Sing-Along Messiah?

“I like it, but it’s kind of long,” she said.

The show was held in the Jackson Theater at Sonoma Country Day School. Irene Sohm, chair of the Sing-Along “Messiah” Committee, said she thought attendance was up over years past, and wondered whether the shake-up in scheduling had anything to do with it.

“I think we like it on the afternoon because nobody has to drive home in the dark, and you can go out to dinner after with your family,” Sohm said. “It can really be a nice family event.”

Planning for the program began in August, and Sunday’s event took about 20 volunteers to make sure it ran smoothly.

Proceeds benefited the Santa Rosa Symphony’s music education programs.

You can reach Staff Writer Christi Warren at 707-521-5205 or christi.warren@pressdemocrat.com.

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