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Volunteer members of the Missoula "Messiah" choir rehearse for last year's performance. Handel's masterpiece is a staple of benefit concerts around the country.

ATHANASIOS MOURATIDIS, Missoulian

Handel's "Messiah" has been a charitable concert since its premiere.

In 1742, it was performed for the first time in Dublin, Ireland, with an amateur chorus and four soloists.

The proceeds were split between three charities and went toward indebted prisoner relief, helping 142 people regain their freedom.

Groups around the world and the country still perform the work as a holiday benefit concert, and Missoula's annual "Messiah" is no different.

This year, 70 community singers have signed up with a few more likely before the Sunday, Nov. 30, concert, according to Anne Marie Brinkman, executive director for the International Choral Festival.

"I'm very pleased with that. It seems Missoula has pulled together once again," she said.

The singers are soliciting pledges from friends, family and community members that they'll turn in the day of the big performance.

The funds raised from the concert go toward a University of Montana School of Music trip to Vienna next summer and the International Choral Festival, which will be held in July 13-16, 2016.

The nonprofit festival, which will mark its 10th anniversary, was last held in 2013. The event brings hundreds of singers from choirs around the world to Missoula, where they perform at venues throughout the city.

The concert is one of the major fundraising events for the UM School of Music's biennial Vienna Program. Maxine Ramey, director of the School of Music, said they expect 40-some students to participate in the six-week program next summer.

UM faculty travel with the students to Vienna, where they rent a baroque palace in the city center. The professors design courses around the musical offerings from the city's prestigious institutions such as the Vienna Opera.

Ramey said the students learn by "doing, seeing, watching and hearing."

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In addition to the community singers, the "Messiah" will feature four soloists: UM music professors Anne Basinski and Kimberly James; UM Dean of the College of Visual and Performing Arts Stephen Kalm; and Thomas Hensley, a UM graduate student in vocal performance.

The chorus will be conducted by David Edmonds, UM director of choral activities.

Backing them is an orchestra of more than 20 professional musicians including members of the Missoula Symphony Orchestra, UM faculty and the community at large. Mayor John Engen also will be in attendance.

Handel, a native of Germany who later became an English citizen, retells the story of Jesus' birth, crucifixion and resurrection in the "Messiah."

"It's a great way to end the Thanksgiving weekend after the shopping and eating," Brinkman said. It's a time to relax and "enjoy some great music."

Kalm, who sang in the Missoula "Messiah" concert for the first 10 years of its run, said the event marks the approach of the holidays in a positive way.

"For many people, I think it's how they begin their holiday season," he said.

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