Sunday, April 16, 2017

The Messiah Festival by Linda K. Hubalek

It's Easter Sunday and I'm listening to the Messiah right now, online from our local radio station...and I realize I didn't get my post up for today. So here's today's post about a group of pioneer Swedes who tackled the HUGE project of learning The Messiah - in English - to perform for the Easter season in their little Swedish community in central Kansas.

This annual event has been presented - every year - since 1882. I have sang in the chorus some years but unfortunately not this year.

Here's some information and photos from

Upon hearing Handel's oratorio Messiah performed in London, the Rev. Olof Olsson immediately expressed his enthusiasm for the work in a letter to his friend Dr. Carl Swensson in Lindsborg. In 1882 the decision was made to perform Messiah in the Smoky Valley that spring with Swensson's wife, Alma, conducting.

Chorus members, town and farm folks alike, came from miles around for rehearsals. Most had no knowledge of music, and some little knowledge of the English language. But Mrs. Swensson persevered and the first performance was given March 28, 1882, at Bethany Lutheran Church. Subsequent performances were given at McPherson, Salina, Freemount, and Salemsborg.

Performances were moved to the Old Main chapel upon completion of that building, then to the Ling Gymnasium, and finally to its present location, Presser Hall Auditorium. Bach's Passion of Our Lord according to St. Matthew has been performed by the Oratorio Society on Good Friday since moving to Presser in 1929.

The Messiah Chorus as it appeared in Ling Gymnasium. The tradition began in 1882 at Bethany Lutheran Church, then moved to the chapel in Old Main upon that building's completion in 1886, and to Ling beginning with the 1896 season. Ling was destroyed by fire in 1946. 

The Union Pacific and Missouri Pacific Railroads would schedule special excursion trains to transport people from hundreds of miles around to experience the art and music of Holy Week in Lindsborg. Today tour buses continue to do the same thing.

Today the performance is given in Presser Hall on the Bethany College campus.

Want to hear part of it? This was a 2014 video, and I'm in the right alto section, second row.

Happy Easter everyone!

Linda Hubalek


  1. Oh, those photos! Fantastic. And thanks for this unique story. I love the Hallelujah Chorus...except it seems to go on...and on...but still, it gives me goose bumps.

    1. I wish I could have attended one of the performances in the 1900s. Actually this year was the 136th performance. Quite a fete for a little Swedish rural town.

  2. That is so wonderful! I loved hearing the choir and I loved the long, rich history behind it! Thanks for sharing with us.

  3. I did not know about this performance until now. It's so nice to know the tradition of it from way back when.
    A very interesting post, Linda.


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