Volume 57 / Number 1

50th Festival of Christmas to be Televised

by Cindy Pfingsten


Bethel marks the 50th year of one of its most beloved traditions this December: Festival of Christmas. Five performances of "Gloria in excelsis Deo" will take place in Benson Great Hall on November 29 and 30 and December 1 and 2.

John Rutter's Gloria will anchor this year's theme, chosen by Dennis Port, artistic director of the festival. Other highlights include a processional arranged by Jon Veenker, chair of the music department, based on Angels We Have Heard on High. Narration will be written by Barrett Fisher, former English professor and current associate dean of arts and humanities in the College of Arts & Sciences.

Besides the fact that this is one of the biggest annual events at Bethel, there will be lots of "extras." For the first time in the history of Festival of Christmas, an additional performance called Family Discount Night will be held on Wednesday, November 29, at 7:30 p.m. This performance is designed for families with small children; the other performances are not appropriate for children under the age of 6.

In addition, a Tree Lighting Ceremony will take place at 7 p.m. on Thursday night (November 30) before the 8 p.m. performance. All are invited for cookies, hot cocoa, and carols as we fill the CLC circle lot.

In honor of this special year, Bethel has arranged for Festival of Christmas to be televised for the first time ever. Twin Cities Public Television (TPT) will record the live performances and broadcast an edited Festival of Christmas concert in the days leading up to Christmas. The telecasts will also be distributed via TPT affiliates throughout greater Minnesota, and possibly even nationally. DVDs and CDs of the performance will also be available for purchase. (See below.)

TPT officials estimate the premiere telecast will reach 35,000 to 40,000 people, and say the rebroadcasts have the potential to double that viewership.

This is believed to be the first performance of its kind in the United States to be produced, broadcast, and recorded in high-definition TV (HDTV), a format that will make the concert even more appealing for TV stations across the country to rebroadcast as they all make the upcoming transition to exclusive HDTV.

"This is as exciting for TPT as it is for Bethel!" exclaims Bill Hanley '76, executive vice president of Minnesota productions for TPT.

"We want to help extend the impact of Bethel and Festival of Christmas geographically and also over time. The recording TPT produces will have a shelf life of numerous years."

Jon Veenker agrees: "We want to represent Bethel well to a much wider community than we normally do through this event."

"Festival of Christmas will be an inspiration to our viewers," concludes Hanley. "As they watch the faces and expressions of the performers, they will see how the miracle of Christmas is a personal expression and commitment for Bethel."
Celebrate with Us!


For ticket information about Festival of Christmas, call 651.635.1999. Broadcast schedules for TPT are listed at www.tpt.org.

To order a DVD or CD of the concert, go to www.bethel.edu/special-events/festival or call 651.635.8518.

Fond Memories of Festival

First Festival

The first Festival of Christmas in the
Fieldhouse of the Snelling Ave. campus, 1957.
Focus asked a few alumni who participated in Festivals of Christmas over the years to recall their favorite memories.

"For the very first [Festival] in December of 1957, I was in charge of all the publicity and worked closely with C. Howard Smith, the choir director at the time. We felt the music department at Bethel was good enough to offer people something like the St. Olaf Choir had for a number of years, and we wanted to make sure the first one got off to a great start.

We had handbills printed up, and a number of students literally walked through the snow and hit every house between Hamline and Snelling Avenues, and Midway Parkway and Larpenteur. We also went through the Minneapolis and St. Paul yellow pages and called a number of churches….It was a huge project. The Fieldhouse was full both nights, and that made it all the more exciting.

There were 125 students in three groups in that first festival performance: the College Choir, the Girls Chorus, and the Male Chorus. The instruments were piano and organ. The theme was ‘The Word Made Flesh and Dwelt Among Us' from John 1:14. A huge backdrop made of nine 22-foot panels was designed by art professor Gene Johnson and painted by art students. It was an attempt to have good collaboration between the vocal part of fine arts and the [visual] art department, plus it lent some beauty to the Fieldhouse, which was very stark.

There was a concern that maybe the votive candles would be seen as too liturgical. So even in the Spire [yearbook], the caption says: ' … choir members made their way up the darkened aisle…carrying candles in tiny colored glasses.' I laughed out loud when I read that again recently since those beautiful votives are one thing that has continued without fail every year.

Festival of Christmas was a fantastic experience to be a part of. The fact that it's the 50th this year is just so exciting, to know it's been going on in such grand style and has been such a blessing to people year after year."

Barbara Erickson '58

37th Festival

Professor Robert Berglund preparing for one of his 37 festivals.

College Choir alumna
Interim Music and Worship Director of Central Baptist Church, St. Paul, Minn.

"I have fond memories of Bethel Festival of Christmas, which I relive each year in my role as artistic director of the Christmas festival here at Northwestern [College in St. Paul, Minn.]. The first memory is of a beautiful processional gone horribly wrong, when a long line of Bethel Choir sopranos…took a wrong turn and ended up wandering like refugees through the aisles of the Robertson Center well after the processional music had ended. I tell my own students, ‘If you become lost, just walk elegantly and confidently until you find your way back.'

Black and White Festival

Several dear faculty come to mind as well. I remember watching Mary Fall conduct the Women's Choir. Her smile and the glowing aura of white light around her head always mesmerized me as I listened to the angelic singing. Equally compelling to me was dear Oliver Mogck's distinctive style with the Male Chorus, and the way he presided over them like a proud father. No microphones whatsoever; he was unapologetically ‘old-school.'

Girls in White

Much of what I cherish is Dr. Robert Berglund's unswerving commitment toward getting us always to do our best singing, and his unrelentingly high standards. Those opening phrases of Var Hälsad Sköna Morgonstund in sometimes slightly mangled Swedish were often one of the last things we learned, but they had to sound fresh each time we sang it.

With nearly 25 years of hindsight, I now know that in musical matters, nothing can ever replace the impact of visionary, excellent leadership to the glory of God. As for me, I will always be grateful for the example of leadership from the heart that my professors Berglund, Fall, and Mogck continue to be in that regard."

Timothy Sawyer '83

Festival Sign

Bethel Choir Alumnus
Director of Choral Activities and Associate Professor of Music, Northwestern College, St. Paul, Minn.

"Year after year, Festival of Christmas takes place. And no one has any idea how many cough drops, bottles of water, and lemon wedges go into each performance. Or how many reminders it takes to make sure everyone is in black shoes. Or how many shapes you can really make from the hot wax in the candles. Or how many times someone almost breaks a votive. Or how many text messages are slyly sent during rehearsal. Or how many new friends are made in the process.


Or how beautiful that one moment really is, because every piece has one. The moment where you forget about the tests and the homework and how sore your throat or fingers are, and you don't mind all the time you 'lost' rehearsing. The moment when the only thing you are doing is worshiping. Because at the heart of it all, worship is what Festival of Christmas is about, and I consider it an honor to have been able to participate."

Cara Lee '06


Bethel Choir Alumna
Community Editor of the Crystal-Robbinsdale [Minn.] Sun Post

All photos courtesy of Baptist General Conference History Center