Vespers tradition returns


Local News

December 12, 2019 - 10:00 AM

Started more than a century ago, Iola Vespers is the gift that keeps on giving.

The latest iteration of the Christmas choir will perform at 4 p.m. Sunday at Iola’s First Presbyterian Church. There is no cost to attend.

Jan Knewtson directs the non-denominational choir, which will offer up a vast catalog of both sacred and secular Christmas songs.

The Vespers concert is one of the few opportunities for audiences to hear adult singers perform four-part harmony in a community choir.

Iola historian Donna Houser dug up information about Iola Vespers’ formation, with its origins dating to as early as 1906 at Iola’s old Baptist Temple on the north side of the downtown square. The group performed through the years, and became known officially as Vespers as an offshoot of the defunct Iola Music Club in the early 1950s.

As one of the requirements to singing with the Music Club, its members were required to participate in a concert at least once a year. They agreed a Christmas concert would be an ideal “musical gift to the community.”

The first such concert was in 1954.

In subsequent years, the concert rotated between First Presbyterian and Iola’s Wesley United Methodist Church, because both had pipe organs.

For decades, Iolans Madge Strickler and Lucille Wagner organized the annual event, no easy task because the choir at the time featured more than 80 singers.

The Music Club provided funds to buy music as needed, and to purchase storage for the growing music collection.

Eventually, as its members aged, the Music Club’s numbers began to dwindle, to the point it disbanded in the late 1990s.

The loss of IMC coincided with the formation of the Southeast Kansas Christian Artists Series, a non-profit group that organized a series of gospel concerts, usually at the Bowlus Fine Arts Center. (SEKCAS founders Glen and Dee Singer were long-time Vespers members as well.)

It was a natural fit, all agreed, for SEKCAS to take over responsibility.

However, with the Singers’ retirement and subsequent move to the East Coast, SEKCAS also disbanded.

But the remaining Vespers members were undeterred in seeing the choir continue to be a part of the local holiday scene.

Just this week, Vespers officials successfully appealed to the City of Iola to serve as a non-funding sponsor. The city’s endorsement will allow Vespers to pursue tourism and other grant funding.

While none of the performers are paid — nor is Knewtson, pianist Jan Kershner or organist Kathleen McCollam — funds still are needed to purchase music.

Choir members begin rehearsals in mid-October, meeting each Wednesday evening to go over their songs until showtime.

September 24, 2019
September 28, 2018
December 8, 2016
December 6, 2012