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December 1, 2013

Christmas at Bethany: Annual holiday concerts a tradition dating back to WWII

Holiday concerts at college date back to WWII

When the Christmas at Bethany concert begins late afternoon, the setting sun creates a glow in Trinity Chapel. And as the concert begins, and night falls, the dim chapel lighting and the lit Christmas trees create a warm, cozy feeling among the performers and guests in the pews.

That's one of Music Professor Ann Fredrickson's favorite parts of the longtime holiday tradition at Bethany Lutheran College. Each year she leads the Mary Martha Singers choir in the Christmas at Bethany concerts, and then she sits in the back with her knitting to take in the performances of her colleagues and students.

“For me it's kind of the kickoff to the Christmas season. There's something about it. I sit and listen to everything that's not my part every evening, and every year I get something new out of it,” Fredrickson said. “It's meant to still and quiet you and focus you at a time of year that you're neither still nor focused.”

Dennis Marzolf, director of the music department, said Christmas at Bethany concerts can be traced back as early as the late 1920s when a choir first was formed on campus and informal choral performances were given.

During World War II, students began the tradition of singing carols by the stained glass in Old Main, and then in the late 1940s the Christmas programs began to morph into more formal affairs.

The Christmas concerts have been held at a variety of locations; they even were held in the gym at one point. But in the 1990s, Christmas at Bethany was moved to Trinity Chapel where it's been held ever since. The concerts have grown in popularity over the years. Marzolf and Fredrickson joke about guests being packed into the pews, adding to the concert's “cozy feeling.”

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