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After 100 Years Of Handel's 'Messiah,' Independence Choir Faces Uncertain Future

courtesy Kansas City Symphony and Community of Christ.

Updated: 2:15 p.m.

A tradition comes to an end after this holiday season, with the Independence Messiah Choir's final performance of Handel's oratorio Messiah with the Kansas City Symphony Chorus.

Beginning in September, the Independence Messiah Choir meets each Tuesday at the Community of Christ Auditorium in Independence, Missouri, for Messiah rehearsals. This week, members of the choir were told this year would be their final performance with the Symphony. 

“We were asked to be patient. The two parties have been talking, and we don’t know details,” said longtime choir member Lucinda Kincaid on Wednesday. 

The Independence Messiah Choir has performed Handel's Messiah as an annual event since 1916. But in 2005, the organization announced plans to stop due to a lack of financial resources. The Kansas City Symphony offered assistance, and since 2006, the choir has performed with the Symphony and the 160-member Symphony Chorus. In 2011, the production moved from the Community of Christ Auditorium (RLDS) in Independence to the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts in Kansas City. Four performances are scheduled for December 1-4 at Helzberg Hall.

On Thursday, the Symphony issued a news release confirming the separation.

"One goal of the partnership was to enable the Independence Messiah Choir to reach its 100th anniversary," the Symphony said. "Having accomplished that goal, the Symphony and Independence Messiah Choir leaders met to discuss the future. With great respect and appreciation on both sides, it was agreed that the logistical and artistic challenges of rehearsing two choirs made it difficult to raise the artistic standard to the next level. In addition, the church-sponsored Independence Messiah Choir is unable to offer the additional financial and administrative resources needed to help meet that goal. These factors led to the mutual decision that 2016 would be the final joint performance." 

Independence Messiah Choir manager Peter Judd says they’ve had an excellent working relationship with the Symphony. “We approach this time of the final performance with nothing but appreciation for the Symphony and what they have done to help us reach this wonderful centennial milestone.”

Judd adds that he’s still exploring possibilities for future performances. “It may not be annual, it may not be at Christmastime always," he says. "But we’re not closing the door, we don’t want to create the impression that the Independence Messiah Choir is shutting down for good. We’re just keeping our options open.”

The Symphony plans to keep Handel's Messiah as part of its holiday schedule.

"The music is not stopping," the Symphony's communication manager Beth Buchanan tells KCUR. "We don't want people to think that the tradition is going away."

Independence Choir member Kincaid agrees.

"Messiah is an inspired work and it will continue, whatever choir sings it. That you can count on," Kincaid says.

"Messiah never stops because God never stops, because Jesus Christ never stops," she says. "At this time of year, around Thanksgiving, it’s sung clear across the globe. The music will live on no matter who sings it or doesn’t sing it for whatever reason."

Laura Spencer is an arts reporter at KCUR 89.3. You can reach her on Twitter @lauraspencer.

KCUR's CJ Janovy contributed to this report.

Correction: October 27, 2016. A previous version of this story suggested this would be the final performance of Handel's 'Messiah' by the Independence Messiah Choir. Options are still being explored. 

Kansas City is known for its style of jazz, influenced by the blues, as the home of Walt Disney’s first animation studio and the headquarters of Hallmark Cards. As one of KCUR’s arts reporters, I want people here to know a wide range of arts and culture stories from across the metropolitan area. I take listeners behind the scenes and introduce them to emerging artists and organizations, as well as keep up with established institutions. Send me an email at lauras@kcur.org or follow me on Twitter @lauraspencer.
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