Handel’s Messiah has risen again on the Island and will be performed for the first time in over a decade on Saturday, Dec. 17 at 8 p.m. in the Old Whaling Church.

Organized by the Grace Episcopal Church, the performance brings together singers and instrumentalist from all over the Island, reviving a tradition that began in 1975.

“Glenn is from the Federated Church and Martha and Molly and Becky are from the West Tisbury Congregational church, Brad is from the Union Chapel, I don’t know if Buck has any church affiliation and David has been singing with the Unitarian choir,” said Jim Norton, a producer and performer, running down a list of soloists. Mr. Norton, who performed in the first Grace Church Choir performance of Messiah in 1975, was integral to reviving the concert. Last year, he helped organize the Grace Church Choir’s Christmas Eve performance of Unto Us a Child is Born, a selection from the first part of Messiah.

Jim Norton and Wes Nagy are reviving an Island tradition. — Mark Lovewell

Composed in 1741 by George Frideric Handel, Messiah is one of the best known oratorio. Even those unfamiliar with Handel would probably recognize the rousing Hallelujah chorus. The three part composition follows Christ’s nativity, passion, resurrection and ascension. Performances of the entire oratorio run well over two hours.

“When they do it in England, they break for tea,” Mr. Norton said.

Performing any part of Handel’s Messiah is a huge undertaking, yet without it Christmas seemed to be missing something for many.

“I’ve had so many choir people after the rehearsals come up and they are all like, I remember this as a child, I remember singing this in high school, I remember going to this in Boston,” Grace Church musicak director Wesley Nagy said. “It’s a touchstone, the Messiah at Christmas, it’s like a Christmas tree.”

Coordinating with Mr. Norton, Mr. Nagy set about planning a performance of the first 21 movements of the first part of Messiah and then ending with the Hallelujah chorus. Though Mr. Nagy is an experienced conductor, he had never conducted Messiah before. Luckily, he is helped by veteran choir members.

“For the first rehearsal, I had to play accompaniment...I was trying to conduct and play and listen and cue, and the singers just did it all,” he said. “It was just amazing how high the level of talent is of the people in the choir.”

Mr. Norton is a member of the Grace Church Choir and the Island Community Chorus. During breaks at various rehearsals for those choirs, he would turn to his left and right and ask his neighbors if they were interested in singing Messiah.

“Jim would show up every Sunday and say okay, I ran into Molly and she’s going to do this, and I ran into Martha and she’s going to do this one, Glenn’s going to cover this one,” Mr. Nagy said. “Each week it was like all the slots were getting filled.”

The singers range in age from the early 20s to late 80s. Popular Island musician Mike Benjamin will join the choir for the first time this year. Mr. Nagy said after his first rehearsal, Mr. Benjamin expressed his surprise at the difficulty of the music.

“He’s singing tenor and there are so many tenor runs, every part has all these 16th note runs that are extremely difficult,” said Mr. Nagy. “It’s a little bit different from singing at the Ritz.”

Mr. Nagy’s memory of Messiah goes back to his childhood outside of Cleveland, Ohio. Growing up, he’d attend performances by the Cleveland Symphony, utterly blown away by their renditions of the oratorio.

“I sang it in high school in the big city choir, so as far back as I remember it’s always been a part of Christmas,” he said. “You can’t help but get overwhelmed when you listen to the Hallelujah chorus. It raises the hair on the back of your neck every time. Every time.” Mr. Norton has performed in most of the Messiah performances on the Island in his lifetime.

“An important part for me, personally, when we sang Messiah, Christmas is here, it’s the first indication that the season had really begun,” he said.

Both Mr. Norton and Mr. Nagy pointed to the unifying effort of the concert. The performance will be in memory of Rev. Brian Murdoch of Grace Episcopal Church, who died unexpectedly in October.

“He was a strong force in trying to gather the churches together to work as one unit here on the Island,” said Mr. Nagy.

The chorus will include approximately 40 singers, with eight soloists, accompanied by an eight-piece orchestra with strings, woodwinds and Griffin McMahon on piano.

“There just were so many who were excited to have it revived,” said Mr. Norton. “It is, to me, such an important part of the Christmas celebration on the Island, to have so many gathered to perform Messiah.”

Handel’s Messiah is on Saturday, Dec. 17 at 8 p.m. at the Old Whaling Church. Suggested donation is $20. Donations will go to the Island Food Pantry and the homeless shelter.