Hastings College’s performance of Messiah a tradition for some families

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The free performance is December 4 at 3:00 p.m. in Lynn Farrell Arena, and for the first time, a livestream will be available at hastings.edu/messiah.

Since 1928, Hastings College has organized a performance of George Frideric Handel’s Messiah, an incredible event held about every five years that features more than 400 singers. The ongoing Hastings College tradition of Messiah makes it possible for generations of singers within a family to join in, and in many cases to perform together.

This year will mark the 26th performance.

With a passion for music and singing, Hastings College junior Mary Swift is performing in Messiah for the second time. Only this time, it’s with both of her parents, David and Catherine Swift. David is a 1981 graduate of Hastings College who will be joining the cast for the fourth time, while Catherine, a 1983 graduate, singing for the first time. Mary’s first performance came when she was a sophomore at Grand Island Senior High, when the school’s choir came to sing.

“I’ve done music my whole life, so I didn’t want to stop in college, which is a big part of why I came to Hastings, too, because I love it,” Swift said.

It’s also Hastings College sophomore Katie Kingsley’s second Messiah performance, having taken part in 2011 as a member of the Hastings High School choir. Katie sang alongside her mother, Patty Kingsley, then, and is looking forward to adding a third family member this year, her sister Lily, a sophomore at Hastings High. This will be the fourth time Patty, a 1988 Hastings College graduate who now works for the College, will sing in Messiah.

“My mom and I sang together the first time, and we even sat right next to each other,” Katie said. “Though this year the three of us will be seated  with our different sections, being able to share the experience with them is still really special.”

Although the Swifts and Kingsleys are separated into sections during the performance, they enjoy the sense of being together and being part of something bigger.

“To share the experience of singing with hundreds of other people, with amazing soloists, and then be able to come home and talk about the same things is great,” said Katie. “For us all to understand it, and not just be talking to someone from the audience who wasn’t inside the music is one of my favorite parts.”

Those participating in the highly anticipated event have been meeting for rehearsals weekly with Dr. Fritz Mountford, a professor of music and director of choirs at the College, although the Hastings College Choir, which Mary and Katie are part of, rehearses daily.

A family tradition

In addition to the Kingsleys and Swifts, there are at least three other families with multiple generations participating—and even more will be in the audience, as the Messiah tradition extends to the entire region.

“Messiah is a beautiful, moving, masterful piece and Handel is a genius for writing it,” said Catherine Swift. “It just is really special to be part of it. In the past, I’ve been part of the audience watching and now I have the perspective of the singer.”

Patty Kingsley said it’s a different interaction when you sing verses listen. “There’s something about when you’re making the music, and you’re inside the music, you interact with that music totally differently than if you just listen to it,” she said. “Being able to talk about those parts you always mess up, or the hard parts of a piece is something that’s been special as we’ve all practiced.”

When David was a biology major and pre-med student at Hastings College, he also sang in the choir. “Singing requires you to focus with a completely different part of your brain. You worry in a different way when it comes to passing science or trying to hit the right note and it’s wonderful,” he said. “Being part of the choir was one of the best parts of my college experience and I wouldn’t give that up for anything.”

Lily said she remembers watching her mom and sister perform in 2011, and is excited to join their ranks this year. “When I was younger I sat in the audience when my mom and Katie sang. It’s exciting to be able to sing with them now,” she said. “I actually didn’t used to have much interest in choir, but now here I am, and I’m so glad to have this opportunity.”

Combination of hard work and fun

Messiah is a conversational topic for both families, where they have come to share fond memories and some of their favorite moments.

According to Mary Swift, much of the conversation with her parents is centered on Mountford and the way he runs rehearsals. They talk about his energy and enthusiasm, making it a fun environment for newcomers, those who haven’t sung in years and those that are more familiar with the music.

“One of the things my parents and I always talk about afterwards is how lively and hilarious Dr. Mountford is. He’s just great in rehearsals. I mean, he’s really like no one else,” Mary said. “He really enjoys working with people. We get so much done with each rehearsal, and that’s really unique, that you can have a good combination of getting a lot of work done but having fun with it.”

According to Katie Kinglsey, her mom and sister have focused their discussion more on the music, especially which parts are their favorite.

“We’ve been playing Messiah quite a bit at home,” Katie said. “We’ve been looking at the music together, working through the notes and markings.”

While different choirs sing different songs throughout the performance, both families are looking forward to the closing “Hallelujah Chorus,” which everyone in both families—and 400 others—will sing together.

By Amanda Miller, a senior from Woodland Park, Colorado, and Nick Musgrave, a senior from Parkersburg, West Virginia.