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Trumpeter Huff in ‘Messiah’ spotlight

The Columbus Sings Messiah spotlight gets around. It starts on the tenor Roderick George at "Comfort Ye My People" and soars with the chorus at "For Unto Us a Child is Born." Then, after about 40 minutes, its beam hits Mike Huff and his trumpet for "Glory to God in the Highest." 


Mike Huff of Montgomery, Alabama, is one of several musicians making up the Columbus Sings Messiah orchestra


His fourth note is an A above the musical staff. 


"The challenge is to play well after sitting for a while," said Huff, who'll join 10 others to make up the "Messiah" orchestra in 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. performances Tuesday, Dec. 13 at Annunciation Catholic Church. "I try to stay flexible while I wait and stay in touch with the overall sound everyone else is making. 


"Then about 10 minutes after 'Glory to God' come the three big trumpet parts at the end. They're a challenge, and I'm pretty tired at the end of the 'Hallelujah' chorus." 


Huff is associate professor of trumpet at Troy University in Troy, Alabama. He's played the Columbus "Messiah" since 2005 using a piccolo trumpet -- one with four valves -- to meet Handel's demands. 


"The Trumpet Shall Sound" is the first of the three big numbers that close the Columbus version of Handel's oratorio conducted by Doug Browning, music director at Columbus' First United Methodist Church. 


"The trumpet parts lie in the high register, and there's very little rest while you're playing," Huff said. "Most Baroque works were written for a trumpet without valves. The shorter tubing in the piccolo trumpet makes it easier to stay in that higher register." 


The short "Worthy is the Lamb" -- "it's a little tricky," Huff said -- follows the sounding trumpet, and then comes the concluding "Hallelujah" chorus. 




Season tradition 


The holidays keep Huff busy since he also plays with symphony orchestras in Mobile, Alabama, Pensacola, Florida, and Meridian. He studied at the University of Massachusetts, Catholic University in Washington and the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York. 


Handel's immortal work debuted in 1743. It has been a Christmas staple around the world ever since, although Advent and Nativity music makes up just 17 of its 56 parts. (The city's annual presentation includes 13 numbers from Messiah's Advent-Christmas sections and six later numbers.) 


Asked about the source of that 273 years of staying power, trumpeter Huff said, "A lot of its popularity does have to do with that seasonal repetition: We associate 'Messiah' with the joyful Christmas season. 


"Also it's a work in English -- so it's telling the Christmas story in our own language." As Messiah's local founding organizer and organist James Allen once said: "It's in the bones of the English-speaking world." 


And why does Huff drive some 200 miles from his Montgomery, Alabama, home to practice and play two performances - all between 4 and 9 p.m. -- then drive back? 


"I started with the Columbus 'Messiah' when I taught at Mississippi State from 2003-2011. James Allen is a great old friend of mine. I enjoy working with him and Doug Browning," he said. 


"Also, Annunciation is a great space with good resonance. I can hear myself. In some spaces the acoustics change when the audience gets into the hall, but not there." The church, at 823 College St., has hosted "Messiah" since 2001. 


"I would say too that the Columbus performance is kind of a Christmas tradition for me, too," Huff added. 


Ready to deliver Messiah's big choral numbers will be the Columbus Sings Messiah Chorus of about 115. The chorus will practice at Annunciation at 7 p.m. Dec. 12, and new singers are welcome to join then. 


Joining Huff, George, Allen and Browning will be soprano Elizabeth Swartz, contralto Heather Warren and baritone Chris O'Rear. 




How to go: Free tickets to ensure seating at the 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. performances at Annunciation Catholic Church are available in Columbus at First United Methodist Church, Party and Paper, the Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Tennessee Williams Welcome Center and the Golden Triangle Link.

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