'Messiah' gives singer Handel on holidays
In all of her 69 years, Sylvia Service has never celebrated Christmas without a performance of George Frederick Handel’s “Messiah.”
But for this Jamaican-born woman, the famed Hallelujah chorus is more than just a holiday tradition. It’s a song of praise, a hymn of thanksgiving.
It’s a remembrance of the way God has held her close through a twisting, turning journey.
“My life hasn’t been easy,” said Service, a single mother of five who worked for many years as a seamstress and cook. “But my life has been blessed.”
From an early age, Service remembers her parents coming home from church, singing from the “Messiah.” Every year, she kicked off the holidays with those songs.
“The ‘Messiah’ has been part of my life in that, if I wasn’t singing it, I found a place where they were putting it on and I have attended,” she said. “The ‘Messiah’ starts the Christmas season for me. It tells of Christ’s birth and his crucifixion, and that he’s risen again. It’s beautiful and has stood through time.”
That didn’t change when, in 1993, Service moved to Rockford. She contacted the Rockford Choral Union, which presents “Messiah” each holiday season, and began to sing with them.
This year, her 15th doing “Messiah” locally, she joined the choral union’s board of directors.
Service’s world has changed considerably since she came to this country more than 40 years ago. With five small children in Jamaica, she wanted a job in the U.S. that would help provide for her family. She had a background in sewing, cooking and catering, so she took a job doing domestic work for a suburban Chicago family.
Here, Service took on the tasks that come with living in a new country: She learned to drive and found out about the Halloween tradition of saying “trick or treat.” She made friends and attended church, each year reveling in Handel’s “Messiah” once again.
Eventually, Service trained as a nurse’s aide and later as a respiratory therapist. She continued that work in Rockford, while attending First Evangelical Free Church and performing in choirs throughout town.
“The happiness I find is in music and the theater,” she said. “I just enjoy any place to do some singing. The Lord has been good to me, and I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve been blessed with.”
These days, Service could very well be enjoying the solitude of retirement. But for a woman who has worked two jobs for most of her life, slowing down doesn’t sound appealing.
So Service works as a house mother for Rockford Area Pregnancy Care Center, in a home for young pregnant women. Each girl stays in the home for nine months, giving Service the opportunity to love and instruct them in the hopes that they’ll be more prepared to take on motherhood once they’re back on their own.
“The thing that really made me decide to move into this house is if I could make a difference,” Service said. “I want them to take the time to plan where they would like to go and what they would like to do.”
Ultimately, Service hopes each young woman learns the value of a hard day’s work, just as she has.
“You want to get from Point A to Point B, but you don’t want it handed to you on a platter,” she said. “You want to be able to look back and see where you came from.”
Rockford Register Star
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