Smoky Valley Historical Association Lindsborg, KS 67456


The crowd can be seen gathering for another Messiah performance in the Ling Gymnasium, home of the Messiah Chorus until Presser Hall was completed in 1929.

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 first broadcast of a Messiah rendition by the Bethany College Oratorio Society was made in 1922 over station WDAF when the chorus sang in Kansas City. Two live national telecasts were presented on stations of the Public Broadcasting System in 1981, Bethany College's centennial year, and in 1986. A special performance of selected choruses was given for King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden in April, 1976.

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.

The Bethany College Oratorial Society performed the Messiah in New York's Carnegie Hall in 1997.

The Messiah Chorus as it appears in Presser Hall, the fourth and present home of the Messiah Festival, beginning with the 1929 season.

Many of today's chorus members are third and fourth generation singers from the same family.

Acoustically the auditorium is designed specifically for the chorus and it's said "there's not a bad seat in the house." The magnificent organ was built in the 1970's. In recent years air conditioning has been installed and the balcony has been renovated to provide more comfort and safety for the audience.

Related Video: Dr. Elmer Copley conducts the Easter Sunday 1981 "Hallelujah!" Chorus

Messiah Festival featured on Sunday Morning with Charles Kuralt on Easter Sunday, 1990