The Mennonite Song Festival Society (General Conference Mennonite) became a permanent organization 8 June 1930 at a business meeting held in connection with a Sängerfest (song festival) at the Alexanderwohl Mennonite Church near Goessel, Kansas. The officers for this new society were John W. Unruh, president; Carl Krehbiel, vice-president; Isaac Baker, secretary; and Weldon Rupp, treasurer. Other leaders in carrying on the work of this annual spring song festival for more than a quarter century included Walter H. Hohmann, G. F. Friesen, and Paul G. Baumgartner. This festival became the largest Mennonite gathering of its kind in Kansas and probably in the United States.
Sängerfests were held in the communities of Newton, Moundridge, Goessel, and Buhler in the early 1920s, to which music organizations of the surrounding churches were invited. In accord with the newly adopted constitution this Sängerfest was held at the various churches upon invitation, and all Kansas, Oklahoma, and Nebraska churches were invited to participate. The host church erected a large tent on the church grounds and by having the choirs sing in the church and tent alternately, a large listening audience of several thousand was accommodated quite adequately. Within a few years, however, the local churches were unable to accommodate such vast crowds, and in 1934 it was agreed to have the festival at Bethel College. Permanent bleachers were erected on the slopes of Kidron Creek and the festival was held out-of-doors. In the case of inclement weather the festival was held at Lindley Hall at Newton. Upon completion of the Bethel College Memorial Hall in 1942, Joliffe Auditorium became the meeting place for this festival. The constitution as revised in 1947 stipulated that "Memorial Hall is to be considered the home of the song festival unless it becomes necessary to meet elsewhere."
Approximately 30 churches from the Western District Conference participated in this annual festival. The idea of having a massed choir make up a part of the program continued at every festival. This choir sang such oratorios as the Holy City, Elijah, and practically all of the Messiah. At other times as many as 12 anthems, carefully selected by the officers, made up an evening's program. German and English chorales and Gospel hymns were sung by the massed choir as well as by the entire audience. To complete the afternoon and evening programs mixed choirs and men's choruses, ladies' choirs, young people's choirs, ensembles, and in later years children's choirs sang at the festival. Between 500 and 800 singers participated annually.
The Mennonite Song Festival Society endeavored to fulfill its stated purpose: "To glorify the name of God in song; to create opportunities for fellowship between the different Mennonite churches; to stimulate interest in church choir work; to constantly strive to improve the quality of the singing of choirs and congregations."
Cite This Article
Nickel, Elizabeth. "Mennonite Song Festival Society (Kansas)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1957. Web. 10 Feb 2016. http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Mennonite_Song_Festival_Society_(Kansas)&oldid=92762.
Nickel, Elizabeth. (1957). Mennonite Song Festival Society (Kansas). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 10 February 2016, from http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Mennonite_Song_Festival_Society_(Kansas)&oldid=92762.
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