Each year, a multi-faith community choir and orchestra meet together to practice and perform Handel’s Messiah in San Antonio, Texas.
In addition to bearing testimony of the reality and divinity of Jesus Christ through music, this tradition has fostered friendship, respect, understanding and love between Latter-day Saints and those of other faiths and non-religious individuals. The inspiring performances over the years has also blessed numerous attendees.
Susan Slaugh is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints. She is the producer and director of Handel’s Messiah, which is hosted by the San Antonio West Stake of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
My family and I used to live in San Antonio, Texas. We were privileged to attend these performances of Handel’s Messiah at Christmastime. The choir and orchestra were truly amazing. Some of my friends and acquaintances were participants. What an experience it must have been for them to be a part of something so beautiful. I told Susan of my appreciation for all she did. I relayed to her how inspiring and beautiful it was to attend the performance, and how it strengthened my testimony of Jesus Christ. Feeling the Spirit of God testifying of eternal truths is like nothing else.
Recently, via Facebook and email, I asked Susan if she would be willing to answer some questions about being a part of this faith-building musical.
What inspired you to begin this project/musical in your stake?
“When I was a young girl, my Mom would go and participate in a multi-Stake performance of Handel’s Messiah. I remember loving the music and the power felt from the large choir. I vowed that if I was ever in a position to start up a community Messiah, I would. Now that I’m older, I continue to produce and direct the Messiah for many reasons. I love the music of Handel’s Messiah. I love that it testifies of Jesus Christ through music and brings the true meaning of Christmas to thousands of lives. I love that hundreds of people in the community from all different religions and churches come together to sing about something we have in common, the love for our Savior, Jesus Christ, I love that singers and instrumentalists have the opportunity to develop their talents and perform good music with a large group; which is really, really good. I love the Spirit I feel when we’re singing!”
What about it has changed since it began?
“Definitely the amount of people helping has changed. We started off with a very minimal set of volunteers. I was 8 months pregnant and pushing pianos into rehearsal rooms. I had to stand on chairs to conduct, and we had a few posters here and there. Now we have a much larger group of volunteers who help, we have checklists so each volunteer knows exactly what to do and by what date. We have better advertisements, videos, podiums, etc. Additionally, because people love the experience of participating with such a high caliber group of musicians, they come back each year and bring their friends. So, we’ve grown from 90 in the choir at one point to over 200!
How has having both LDS and non-LDS members contributed to the musical?
“We have participants from 30 different religions/ churches and from 70 different congregations. I love celebrating the commonality we have with other people in our community. There are some really great people in San Antonio who may attend different churches or no church at all. They love good music and they have a deep love and testimony that Jesus Christ is our Savior. I love that we can all come together, have a good time, get to know each other, create uplifting music together, and sing about the birth and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. I love it! As for missionary opportunities, I hope that by performing the Messiah each year that participants and audience members recognize that we as Latter-day Saints truly believe that Jesus Christ is our Savior. I always bear testimony in some way or another during rehearsals about the lyrics we’re singing about. I do this so that the participants feel the Spirit of the message we’re conveying and know without a doubt that I, Susan Slaugh, believe in Jesus Christ.”
In total, about how many hours of practice and performance is put in by you and the participants per year?
“It’s about 15 hours of rehearsal and performance time per person and hopefully many more hours of personal practice. The hours I and others on my committee put in, that’s too many to count. We work all year long on organizing and producing the Messiah. I personally spend part-time to full-time hours some weeks on Messiah related tasks, although having a great committee has helped with that workload tremendously over the years.
Could you share your testimony?
“I know that Jesus Christ lives! I know that he is my Savior! I know he was born to this earth and that through the atonement I can be made clean again and someday return home to my Father in Heaven! I love that the lyrics from the Messiah are taken directly from scripture because the Holy Ghost always testifies of truth. So, when we sing that he has “carried our sorrows” or a soloist sings “I know that my Redeemer liveth,” you feel it! You know it’s true! To stand in the center of the beauty, majesty, and testimony that is being poured out from everyone’s hearts as we testify of Jesus Christ is an immeasurable feeling. And every time we perform, I am reminded of how grateful I am to a loving Heavenly Father and for my Savior, Jesus Christ.”
I appreciate Susan for taking the time to answer these questions and for sharing her testimony. I am grateful that she, her family (in support and participation) and many others volunteer their time and talents for the benefit of the community. The idea of Latter-day Saints and others working together for such a noble and uplifting experience for themselves and for others is truly wonderful. In a world of ever-increasing divisiveness, it is good to know there are some things we can agree upon and have in common. We can acknowledge our differences and participate in civil dialogue with respect towards one another. I believe this is possible through the light of Christ. Whether through musical performance, offering resources or participating in humanitarian aid or in the many other ways in which we can set our differences aside, we can continue to come together to uplift, edify, teach, bless and serve one another. As we strive to do so, may our focus be on our Savior and Redeemer Jesus Christ this Christmas and throughout the year.
*For more information go to Susan Slaugh’s Handel’s Messiah Facebook page or the official website at http://www.samessiah.com/
For more information about Handel’s Messiah performance by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir (in person and online) next March (2018) click here.
An amateur writer, photographer and genealogist, Valerie has enjoyed writing since the age of nine. She and her husband are proud parents of three adult children. She is the administrator for MormonDoctorsTestify.org and MormonConvertsTestify.org including corresponding Facebook pages. Her other Facebook pages include Mormon Missionaries Testify, Be Prepared - Info. for Prospective & Current LDS Missionaries and Strong Family Ties. She has a strong desire to share the gospel with others. She enjoys learning about many things such as emergency preparation, public health, alternative / functional medicine, psychology, world and space science, quantum physics and more. She obtained an Associates Degree in Office Education at Ricks College (BYU-Idaho). She has studied at Sam Houston State University and the University of Texas at San Antonio. Her goal is to go back to school to earn a Bachelor's Degree in Public Health. Valerie works with her husband, a private investigator, as an administrative assistant. She feels privileged to be a part of a visiting teaching group, accompanying her husband during Home Teaching visits and being an Activity Days leader in her ward. Scott and Valerie's oldest child participated in a service mission in Texas and Utah. Their middle child is a full-time missionary in Oklahoma. Their youngest child was a service missionary in Utah.