Welcome to the Diocese of Lake Charles

By Pamela Seal 
Diocese of Lake Charles

LAKE CHARLES — For the first time in its 81-year history, the annual performance of George Frideric Handel’s Messiah Oratorio by the Lake Charles Messiah Chorus and Orchestra will be performed in the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in downtown Lake Charles. 

The cherished holiday tradition will take place on Sunday, December 4, at 3:30 p.m., a half hour later than its usual start time. Admission is still free, which is plenty reason to sing “Hallelujah” while kicking off the Christmas season in Southwest Louisiana that will surely be an acoustical experience to remember.

Conducted by Colette Bulber Tanner, the Lake Charles Messiah Chorus was organized in 1939 by her late father, McNeese professor Dr. Francis G. Bulber, with the first Messiah performance in 1940. The long-standing tradition paused in 2020 because of COVID-19 and back-to-back hurricanes.

“Dad would be happy with the Messiah being performed in the Cathedral since that is where he was choir director after moving to Lake Charles in 1939,” said Colette.

The musical presentation will return to McNeese State University in 2023 after renovations are complete in the auditorium named for Dr. Bulber. 

“I am really excited to hear the performance in the Cathedral,” said Colette about this year’s Messiah. “I have always loved singing in the Cathedral because of the acoustics. 

“Don’t get me wrong. I love performing the Messiah in the auditorium,” she continued. “In all honesty, that is the place where I feel closest to my dad. His office was in that building for so long. This year is just a different opportunity to hear the performance in a way that acoustically is going to be beautiful.” 

Robert Marcantel, current Director of Music for the Cathedral, echoes Colette’s sentiments on this year’s location for the concert. 

“It is very appropriate to have the Messiah performed in the Cathedral because, at one time, in the 1940s, Dr. Bulber was the music director for the parish, long before it became a cathedral,” said Marcantel. “I think he would be extremely pleased to see and hear the work performed in our liturgical space,” adding that the Cathedral “is the most acoustically alive church in the area.”

The Messiah was originally performed in Neale’s Music Hall in Dublin, Ireland, which was about the size of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, said Marcantel. 

“In addition to the rich acoustics of the building, the Cathedral is also a much more intimate setting in which to enjoy the music,” he said.

At the Messiah’s inception, Dr. Bulber combined local church choir members with John McNeese Junior College students to form the chorus, accompanied only by two pianists. 

 “One of the main reasons my dad started the Messiah was to give McNeese students the opportunity to experience performing it, because it is considered one of the heights of performance,” said Colette.  

This year’s presentation includes 75 vocalists and orchestra made up of community members from the five-parish area, including McNeese music students as soloists. 

Longtime members of the Lake Charles Messiah Chorus performing include Barbara Belew, 63 years; Eva Boudier, 58 years; Roberta Yellott and Raymond Maylen, both 51 years; Michael Taylor and Caren Gunter, both 48 years; and Deborah Castille, 45 years. 

The annual event is one of Colette’s favorite memories of being the conductor’s daughter. Her mother, Patricia Cavell Bulber, 92, played the harpsichord in the 1954 Messiah performance and every one after through 2019. She plans to be in the audience this year. 

“Our family was so entrenched in Messiah because Dad worked on it all year,” she recalled. “We knew that starting the first Monday in October it was Messiah season. Growing up we had three holidays — Thanksgiving, Messiah, and then Christmas,” Colette said with a chuckle. 

After Dr. Bulber’s death in 1992, Colette would eventually take the reins in 2013. 

“Dad never felt, and I don’t either, worthy of directing Handel’s Messiah,” she remarked. “The whole thing was written in 23 days. Not just the songs, but also the orchestra parts and extra things that went along with it.” 

Colette continued, “The Messiah is such a magnanimous expression since in each movement, the librettist was able to scripturally find the prophecies in the Old Testament and the fruition of the prophecies in the New Testament, with the final chorus drawn from the Book of Revelation. There had to have been some inspiration.” 

Before her father conducted the Messiah each year, Colette said he would spend an hour in his room. 

“We all knew not to disturb him because he would be on his knees praying the rosary before he conducted it,” she recalled. 

Colette said it was always understood that she and her two siblings — brother, Gerard and sister, Patrice — would give their best to God. “Since God is in each person,” she said, “that meant giving our best to each person.” 

“We grew up surrounded by art and literature and music,” she reflected. “Mom and Dad never thought we should settle for mundanity. If you look at the history of the Church, not only with its art but also how it is charity throughout the world, we should not give God less than anything but our best.” 

Colette emphasized the importance of free admission for the annual performance. 

“When the Messiah first started, many churches in Lake Charles — no matter the denomination — would opt to not have their evening service and send their congregations to go and see the Messiah,” she said. “How can you charge for that? Dad never charged, and I don’t either, because it would be like charging people to go to church,” said Colette. “It will never happen as long as I am around.” 

For more information or to help support the Lake Charles Messiah Chorus, visit www.lcmessiah.org. The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception is located at 935 Bilbo Street. The concert is slightly over one hour in length.

 


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