Singing has been a favorite tradition and recreation among the Mennonites of Prussia and Russia, which can be traced back to the days when Mennonites lived in secluded and isolated communities where commercial entertainment was scarce and not promoted. The practice of spontaneous singing in the family, church, and community was transplanted to North and South America. The song festivals (Sängerfest) are a special form of expression of the love of music found among the Mennonites of Russia and now in Canada, the United States, and South America.
Mennonite song festivals became very popular in Russia before World War I. Kornelius G. Neufeld published the magazine Aufwärts, 1909 f., which was originally devoted primarily to music, singing, and song festivals. Unser Blatt (1925-28) reported regularly after World War I about the song festivals of the various Mennonite settlements in Russia. No other subject received as much attention and treatment in the paper as the song festivals and the training courses for song leaders. Choirs and song leaders of many villages met at song festivals and inspired each other for better achievements in the art of singing. Even under the Soviets this was one of the activities which was partially tolerated for a while. Small group and family singing continued even during the darkest hour when large meetings and worship services were forbidden.
Well known among the Mennonites (General Conference Mennonite) of Kansas is the Mennonite Song Festival Society which was organized in 1930 at the Alexanderwohl Mennonite Church at Goessel, Kansas, during the spring of that year, for church choirs. Smaller song festivals had been held at various places prior to this organization. In 1931 the Eden Mennonite Church of Moundridge, Kansas, was the host to the Mennonite Song Festival. Choirs from surrounding Mennonite churches joined in the all-day singing of hymns and choral numbers. The following year at Whitewater a mass women's choir also performed. In 1932 at the Song Festival in Newton it was agreed that the afternoon would be devoted to presentations of songs by various church choirs, while evening programs would be devoted to combined choral singing. After this, with the exception of the years 1935, 1937, 1941, when the Song Festival took place in Lindley Hall in Newton, the choirs performed in the Kidron Park on the Bethel College campus. The number of participating choirs in the early years was sometimes has high as 30, with a total of 500 to 1,000 singers. The choir groups consisted of 25 to 75 members. Reports indicate that there was a total attendance of 3-5,000. Among the officers of the Mennonite Song Festival Society were Paul Baumgartner, D. C. Wedel, Elizabeth Nickel, and Jacob Bartel. Some of the programs were broadcast. The combined singing was usually under the direction of W. H. Hohmann. As a rule the mass choir rehearsal took place prior to the song festival. The Mennonite Men's Chorus Festival gave its tenth annual presentation on 23 March 1958, at Memorial Hall of Bethel College.
The Mennonite Brethren have similar song festivals. Formerly they took place in various communities and churches. Recently the Mennonite Brethren Central Kansas Choir Festival, as well as the Mennonite Brethren Men's Chorus, are giving their programs in Memorial Hall at Bethel College. In the western part of Kansas there is also an annual song festival, as well as one in Oklahoma and one on the Pacific Coast. H. C. Richert and his Tabor College Choir have had a significant influence on the Mennonite Brethren Song Festival.
Song and music festivals and choir director schools are particularly popular among the Mennonites of Canada both in the General Conference and the Mennonite Brethren churches. The two Bible colleges in Winnipeg and the various schools from coast to coast are centers of these activities. Some of the outstanding leaders were K. H. Neufeld, John Konrad, and Ben Horch. Similar song festivals are held in various places in the western provinces.
Mennonite Life. The April 1948 issue of Mennonite Life was devoted primarily to Mennonite music and singing.
Nickel, Elizabeth. "Mennonite Song Festival Society," compiled the minutes 1928-49 (Mennonite Library and Archives [North Newton, Kansas]).
Unser Blatt, published in Russia 1925-28, reports on song festivals: Vol. I, 12, 30, 40, 132, 176, 219, 253, 277 ff., 317; Vol. II, 179, 219, 334, 343, 376; Vol. III, 146, 168, 171.
Cite This Article
Krahn, Cornelius. "Song Festivals." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1959. Web. 20 Nov 2017. http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Song_Festivals&oldid=130428.
Krahn, Cornelius. (1959). Song Festivals. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 20 November 2017, from http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Song_Festivals&oldid=130428.
Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 4, p. 579. All rights reserved.
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