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An Easter question: Why do we stand for the 'Hallelujah Chorus?'

The "Hallelujah Chorus" was part of Easter services at Trinity Cathedral
The "Hallelujah Chorus" was part of Easter services at Trinity Cathedralphoto by author

While it is widely performed at Christmas time, it should be noted that Handel’s Messiah was composed for Easter. Since its composition in 1741, the Messiah is widely performed during the Christmas Holiday season but portions of it are used during Easter. Case in point was Trinity Cathedral at services on Easter Morning. Rare is the chorus, choir or glee club that does not perform at least portions of Handel’s oratorio at some point. And, of course, the most recognized part is the “Hallelujah Chorus” and everyone will stand. The question is “Why?”

The answer is really quite simple. At a performance on March 23rd, 1743 (remember, Messiah was composed as Easter music) King George II of England was attending the performance. When the “Hallelujah Chorus” began, the King rose. It is not clear why, perhaps he was stretching his legs, or, being partially deaf, he mistook the opening notes for the National Anthem, or he may have risen out of respect. However, protocol dictated that when the King stood, everyone else stood as well.

No one knows for sure why, but one thing is certain, people will rise to their feet at the first notes of the “Hallelujah Chorus.”

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