The Lyric Performing Arts Company will offer "the most performed music and message in all of history" - George Frideric Handel's "Messiah" - on Thursday evening in the sanctuary of First United Methodist Church, 2500 11th St. in Brownwood.

A community choir, directed by Dr. Robert Tucker with Dr. Allen Reed as organist, will perform the Christmas portion of the masterpiece, concluding with the "Hallelujah" chorus.

Soloists will be Jennifer Reeves, soprano; Dr. Diana Ellis, alto; Dr. Greg Church, tenor; and Jeff Woods, bass.

The performance will begin at 7:30 p.m. There is no admission charge.

"We're able to do this as a gift to the community," said Lyric Performing Arts Company board member Eric Evans. "While the concert is free to the public, it's funded by the Arts Council of Brownwood and we are so very thankful for their support.

"This performance is simply not to be missed," said Evans. "The community choir that joins together for this performance is as talented as you'll find anywhere. Additionally, I cannot say enough about the extremely talented soloists we will have performing. They do a fantastic job."

Adding to the ambiance of the community's performance, Evans said, is the church's "fantastic and fairly new" organ and the "beautiful Christmas banners that decorate the church sanctuary."

Several portions of "Messiah" are among the most familiar of all Western sacred music, and certainly the best-known works of its composer. Perhaps the most famous is the "Hallelujah" chorus. Lyric production director Dr. Nancy Jo Humfeld said it is tradition for audiences to stand during its performance.

"One explanation is that the king (King George II) was so inspired that he rose in recognition of the majesty of the music and the chorus' declaration of Christ as the King of Kings," Humfeld said, and it was the custom of the time for subjects to stand whenever the king stood. But Humfeld said, other explanations suggest that King George just needed to stretch his legs during the lengthy performance of the entire composition.

"Messiah" was first performed during Lent in Dublin in 1742, but it has become popular in America during Advent - the religious season leading to Christmas (though for obvious reasons the "Christmas portion" is sung without the Easter and Judgment Day portions.

Historians explain that Handel, a versatile theatrical composer of the baroque period, was born in Germany, enjoyed success in Italy and settled in England. In 1741, Handel became so inspired reading scriptures from the Old and New Testaments that he was overcome by their power. The music began dancing and exploding within him, he later confessed, and he shut himself in and began working night and day, often forgetting to eat.

Historical accounts say Handel's servants could hear his sobs and prayers as he labored over the inspired text, at one point telling them he had seen the face of God. He finished the original libretto and score in 28 days, and in the decades that followed, revised it repeatedly sometimes to customize it for the performers available for concerts.

"It had to be inspired," said Tucker, who will conduct the performance Thursday. "As someone who has composed music, I know there's no other way to explain how a human being could compose such a masterpiece in only 28 days."

Humfeld said members of Thursday's audience will be provided with information on the history and tradition of "Messiah."