Don’t let handicaps get in the way

George Frideric was a music prodigy from the beginning, although he did not grow up in a musical family.
In fact, his father hated music and felt that people who studied music had a weak character. So he did not provide music lessons for young George. He even forbade the boy from practising on musical instruments.
His father, who was 62 years old when George was born, had his mind set on his son becoming a lawyer. His mother, on the other hand, understood how much George loved music and smuggled a small piano into the attic.
She covered the strings with cloth to muffle the sound. And every evening, George quietly practised and his father never heard!
Then one day in 1693, George accompanied his father to the palace. To the amazement of his father and the duke, eight-year-old George wandered into the chapel and began playing the organ.
The duke was so impressed that he begged George’s father to let the young boy take music lessons.
So it happened that George Frideric Handel took lessons from a local organist, Wilhelm Zachau.
In addition to organ, Zachau taught the boy harpsichord, violin, oboe, composition, harmony, and counterpoint, and eventually required George to compose a new cantata for the church every week.
All this before age 11.
But unfortunately, George’s father thought the boy already had studied too much music. So, shortly before his father died, George began his law studies.
He continued to honour his father’s wishes for seven years. But, in his spare time, he wrote cantatas for church services and worked as a church organist.
Finally at age 18, George Frideric Handel no longer could live without his beloved music and moved to Hamburg, Germany, where he pursued opera composition.
After Germany, he went to Italy, where he soon established himself as a composer and then on to England to stage his operas.
Despite his early success, Handel found greater competition and less success as the years went by. Opera styles were changing, so Handel began writing oratorios.
Then in 1737, Handel suffered a stroke at the age of 52.
The stroke left Handel partially paralyzed. And the despondent composer was certain his career was over. Moreover, he was deeply in debt—and saw himself ending his days in debtor’s prison.
Then, four years later, a partially-recovered Handel was inspired to begin an oratorio detailing the life of Jesus. And for 21 days, he poured himself into his composition.
The result was his celebrated work, “The Messiah.”
When King George II attended a performance of “The Messiah,” he was so impressed by the “Hallelujah Chorus” that he stood up. When the king stood, everyone else stood.
And to this day, when the “Hallelujah Chorus” is performed, the audience rises.
What if Handel would have let his stroke ruin his career and his life? Or if, even earlier in life, he had stopped adapting with the times and given up on composing because opera styles changed?
This holiday season, as you listen to or sing “The Messiah,” remember the story of the remarkable man who held true to his dreams and created this inspiring music—in spite of his handicap.
Marie Snider is an award-winning health care writer and syndicated columnist. Write her at or visit

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