Thursday, October 29, 2015

Messiah @ Bethany College, Lindsborg, Kansas

Verbatim excerpts:

Bethany College. "Messiah Festival of the Arts: The Tradition."

Dr. Carl Aaron Swensson succeeded [Olof] Olsson as pastor of Bethany Lutheran Church in 1879. Bethany College was founded in the sacristy of the church on October 15, 1881, when ten children of the immigrant families began their higher education. The founding of Bethany College brought remarkable energetic people and ideas to this part of the Great Plains instilling both college and community with deep appreciation for music and art.

The Bethany Oratorio Society was founded in December 1881, when 40 parishioners were welcomed to the parsonage of Pastor Swensson and his wife Alma to learn the words and music of Messiah. Almost all of them were immigrants from Sweden who still lived in a pioneer world of sod houses. Alma Swensson, an accomplished musician, worked with the singers throughout the winter and spring in helping them learn the music as well as the English words. The first performance by the Bethany Oratorio Society was on March 28, 1882, in Bethany Lutheran Church. Every Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday since, the College and the people of Lindsborg have come together to perform Handel’s great oratorio. The annual tradition continues today as the oldest continuous annual performance of the Messiah in the United States.

Beccy Tanner. "'Messiah' is an Easter tradition in Lindsborg." Wichita Eagle, April 10, 2011

LINDSBORG — When the opening strains of Handel's "Messiah" are sounded this Palm Sunday, it will mark one of the oldest Lenten traditions in North America.

Each year — often for nearly three months in advance of Easter — local farmers, homemakers, college students and business owners gather twice a week to rehearse the three-hour piece.

The end result is a 200-person chorus with a full-volume organ — one of the largest in the Midwest — and a class-act, nimble-fingered orchestra.

* * *

In 1879, 22-year-old Carl Aaron Swensson and his wife, Alma, arrived in Lindsborg and he became pastor of the Bethany Lutheran Church. Within two years, he started Bethany College for the immigrant children of the parish to receive a higher education.

Swensson had been a graduate of Augustana Seminary in Rock Island, Ill. When he returned to Rock Island for the spring graduation, Swensson saw a local church's rendition of the "Messiah" and vowed to produce it in Lindsborg.

That winter, Alma Swensson, a gifted singer, began working with Lindsborg parishioners to learn the "Messiah."

It was an ambitious undertaking.

"She taught people a phrase at a time, both notes and English words," said Jim Ruble, vice president of advancement at Bethany College.

On March 28, 1882, the Bethany Oratorio Society performed the "Messiah" in Bethany Lutheran Church as a fundraiser for the new college.

It was such a success, Alma Swensson took the show on the road, "in lumber wagons along dusty Kansas roads, to the neighboring towns of Salemsburg, Salina and New Gotland," Time magazine reported in 1939 when it featured Lindsborg's "Messiah."

Read more here:

Bethany College. "Messiah Festival Proudly Announces Our 135th Season."

Kicking off the Festival will be the Bethany Theatre Department’s production of Lucas Hnath’s “The Christians” on March 18 and 19, directed by Professor Greg LeGault, who brought the incredible “Jesus Christ Superstar” production to last year’s Festival. Bethany’s Theatre Department is, at this time, one of a small number of non-professional/educational theatres nationwide to acquire production rights to the play, which made its New York City premiere on September 18, 2015, at Playwrights Horizons. A talk-back session will be scheduled in conjunction with the production. This performance will take place at Burnett Center on the campus of Bethany College both nights, and tickets are $15 regular admission, and $12 for students & Bethany faculty/staff.

Good Friday, March 25, sees the 86th annual performance of the Bethany Oratorio Society’s“Passion According to St. Matthew” by J.S. Bach

The 135th Messiah Festival will conclude with the historic performance of Handel’s “Messiah” on Easter Sunday, March 27, at 3 p.m. in Presser Auditorium, by the Bethany Oratorio Society and four of today’s brightest operatic talents, also directed by Dr. Lucas. The foundational event of the Messiah Festival of the Arts, this concert has long been an incredible musical experience for thousands of patrons every Holy Week since 1882. The performance will begin at 3 p.m. in Presser Auditorium. Tickets are $22 and $25, and will go on sale Jan. 1.

Hilton Als, "Divine Intervention: The Strange World of Lucas Hnath." New Yorker Sept. 7, 2015

He is an artist whose particular brand of American strangeness grows along with his strengths, many of which—a sense of high drama, and a deep understanding of how the patriarchy wants to hold on to just that—are not immediately apparent in his minimal scripts, which look, on the page, less like dialogue than like poems.

from Orlando, MFA New York University

Michael Paulson, "Lucas Hnath’s ‘The Christians’ Tackles a Schism Among the Flock" New York Times, Sept. 3, 2015

But Mr. Hnath (pronounced nayth) is not going there himself. He has written an essay for the theater’s website, and the show’s program, explaining that he is choosing not to discuss his own beliefs or practices, believing that audiences need to decide for themselves how to respond to a play that depicts a typical American megachurch fractured by a dispute over salvation and damnation. Mr. Hnath, 36, is happy to talk about his upbringing — he went to Christian elementary and middle schools, helped out with youth ministry, tagged along with his mother to seminary classes — but his religious life after high school is off limits, leaving it up to theatergoers to ponder whether “The Christians” is fundamentally sympathetic to, or critical of, the kind of community it depicts.

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