Handel’s Messiah – a story of love and healing

A group of 55 islanders are performing the full Christmas portion of Handel’s Messiah Dec. 18 at 7 p.m. at the Presbyterian Church, five of the singers are teens. The choir will be accompanied by 12 local musicians. The concert is free, donations accepted.

“It has been an extraordinary community effort. Amber has brought in people from all over, including the Community Theatre,” said Kathy Williams, who has helped organize the event. “What she has managed to pull from this motley crew has been an honor to watch! She is so demanding.”

To which Amber Lauridsen laughed, saying “Slave drive, that’s what they call me!” Lauridsen is conducting the concert. Lauridsen first was introduced to music through her church in Seol, Korea.

“We didn’t have any instruments, we were too poor,” Lauridsen said. “I wanted to play the piano but we didn’t even have a radio.”

She did learn to play a Korean folk song on a little black-keyed keyboard.

In the fifth grade, she was feeling particularly lonely and depressed when she heard church bells, which drew her to the church where she was introduced to new people and the world of music.

In the sixth grade she began playing on the church’s piano, however, because she tended to plunk through the chords as she practiced, picture heavy-handed chopsticks, they began to lock the piano. Lauridsen was not easily deterred. The church also had an older piano with peddles, so she began using that one instead.

“I would play for hours and hours,” Lauridsen said.

She began singing in the church choir as well, and it wasn’t long after that she began conducting.

College was not necessarily on her radar as her family was too poor to afford it, but staying true to her dreams, she gained her vocal performance degree from Chung=Ang University and performed as Mimi in La Boheme.

Lauridsen has also performed in Shenyang, China with the Terre Haute Symphony and appeared as a soloist for Austria’s Classical Music Festival. She received her Master’s in conducting at South Florida University and her Doctorate of Musical Arts in Sacred Music from the University of South California.

Three years ago, right before the pandemic Lauridsen and her husband moved to San Juan Island,

In the midst of those turbulent times, driving to Friday Harbor from her house, excerpts from the Messiah came over the radio.

“With everything going on, I started to cry,” she said. “It portrays how all will be healed, it’s so full of love and joy.”

Handel wrote the Messiah in 1741, in the midst of dark times of his own life. He was heavily in debt, possibly even in debtors prison, and had recently had a stroke. He wrote the piece in three weeks, according to Lauridsen, which is extraordinary considering its length and complexity.

“It has such conviction which is why I think it is so popular. It has so much heart,’ Lauridsen said.

Some historians say he was able to pay his way out of debtors prison as a result of his earnings from the music and paid the debts off of others as well.

Lauridsen knew she wanted to conduct the Messiah for islanders. The original plan was to perform it in 2021, however, the pandemic was still occurring and people were still too unsettled.

That only gave them more time to get organized and pull in those talented musicians throughout the community.

“It’s been an enriching experience for a lot of people,” Williams said.

“It is so fun to watch her, she is so energetic. It’s a two-hour practice, and people are so happy afterward,” organizer Cheri Hancock said. Lauridsen laughed confessing during one rehearsal she nearly fell off the stage.

“I knew many of them could sing, but I wondered if they could stay all the way through. I’m so proud and happy they did,” Lauridsen said. She added that given a choice, she would choose a large group because she loves people. “They can do such amazing things!”