Diners at a shopping mall food court in Ontario, Canada, were surprised when those sitting around them burst into song – Georg Friedrich Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus” from the oratorio,”The Messiah.”

And now a video of the event has been watched some 43 million times.

At its peak, it was garnering 500,000 views.

Per day.

Not bad for a tune not quite 300 years old.

The performance at the Seaway Mall near Niagara Falls had been set up by a company whose founder wanted to thank customers and spread cheer at the Christmas holiday season.

Jennifer Blakely, who with her husband Sam runs Alphabet® Photography, came up with the idea and wanted simply to thank company customers and cheer others during the Christmas holiday, company spokesman Chris Dabrowski told WND.

She contacted a local community choir, a non-profit that has been performing for a number of years, made arrangements with the mall, and launched the plan.

The company’s Alphabet project was inspired by a children’s book called “Alphabet City,” published in 1999 by Stephen T. Johnson. Jennifer Blakely spent a large part of 2006-2007 traveling Canada to take photos of objects that look like letters of the English alphabet.

From those was created a series of inspirational images with words such as “Love” and “Joy,” assembled from the natural images.

Dabrowski said the project took about eight weeks of planning and rehearsals and there were seven cameras in the mall’s food court to capture the result.

The music, by Handel, was written for four vocal parts and an orchestra including strings, oboes, bassoons, trumpet and percussion.

The “Hallelujah Chorus” is part of the oratorio “Messiah,” and probably is the best-known part of the work. It was written in September 1741 and first performed in Dublin.

The words are taken from the text of the King James Bible, and tradition tells the story that when he first heard it, King George II was so moved he stood, thus requiring all of his subjects to follow suit.

That has resulted in the contemporary tradition for audiences to stand during the performance.

The work, however old, routinely attracts hundreds of thousands or millions of views, when performances are posted online.

Musicologists say part of the strength of the piece comes from the repeated words, “Hallelujah!” and the repeated notes, along with the intensity built by singers ascending the scale as the piece continues.

A more traditional performance is from Radio City Music Hall:

But the inspiration behind the melody and message didn’t stop with Handel, and contemporary groups have made it their own in many ways, sometimes adding drums, bass guitar, syncopation and hand-clapping, as done by the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir:

Its worldwide impact is evident in the performances in other languages and lands, including this from the Radio Television Hong Kong network:

Further, there are groups that have done creative work, such as a high school’s group of “Silent Monks.”:

There also are, each Christmas season, community groups that set up performances specifically designed to allow the audience to sing along, such a “Messiah Singalong” held annually in Boulder, Colo.

According to a website dedicated to Handel’s work, the “Messiah” does not tell a story in conventional terms, so is unlike other baroque oratorios.

It also was composed at Handel’s “usual quick speed,” and addresses the prophecy of salvation, the redemptive sacrifice and the promise of resurrection and redemption.

Note: Read our discussion guidelines before commenting.