Ten years ago, New York’s Carnegie Hall was completely sold out when the Independence Messiah Choir was invited to perform Handel’s “Messiah” as part of the “New York City’s 2000 holiday season.”

Ten years ago, New York’s Carnegie Hall was completely sold out when the Independence Messiah Choir was invited to perform Handel’s “Messiah” as part of the “New York City’s 2000 holiday season.” It was Maestro Jack Ergo’s shining moment as he conducted the 84th annual holiday performance. The famed New England Symphonic Ensemble accompanied them.

The magnificent Messiah Choir has a long and celebrated history. Music has always been a big part of any church congregation, but none more so than the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Upon returning to Independence, they established their first church on the east side of the Independence Square in 1881. The following year, a 14-member choir was formed, seven men and seven women.

With the building of the Stone Church on West Lexington Avenue, the choir was moved to the new and larger congregation. It ultimately became the foundation for many other choruses including the General Conference Chorus.

In 1915, the church received a new president, Fredrick M. Smith, who was a highly educated man with visions of the possible influence his church could have, not only in Independence, but throughout the country as well. He energetically encouraged church members to cultivate cultural interest and utilize their talents to improve their communities.

One hundred thirty voices first sang “Georg Fredrick Handel’s Messiah” for the April 1916 General Conference of the RLDS  Church under the direction of Albert N. Hoxie. The Stone Church Choir and other Independence singers who had been trained by Cordelia “Cordie” Hulmes formed the group.

In the fall of 1916, the Kansas City Symphony Chorus invited them to join their chorus in a performance of “Messiah” in the Kansas City Convention Hall. The concert was meant as a Christmas gift to the people of Kansas City during a time of uncertainty and World War I. The crowds were so large people had to be turned away as they scrambled to hear the spiritual and musical reassurance. That began a holiday tradition that has lasted to the present. Not even a smallpox epidemic that next year was able to stop the Christmas time performance.

“Messiah” has had many great and magnificent soloists throughout the years, but none with a record like Nellie Atkinson Kelly. She was a popular and persistent soloist that was still singing her part at the age of 106.

In 1924, “Messiah” began regular radio broadcast over the church-owned radio station, KLDS, and by 1930, it was picked up by the CBS Radio Network and was beamed to the rest of the nation. The choir received congratulations and admiration from California to New York. Beginning in 1937, the Kansas City Philharmonic Orchestra joined in their performances, a relationship that lasted for some 50 years. It was first televised in 1959 over WDAF-TV Channel 4.

Beginning their performances in the Stone Church, “Messiah” soon outgrew the space available and had to use various other auditoriums until in 1958 they were able to move into the completed conference chamber of the RLDS Auditorium. The 5,000-seat auditorium was designed with perfect acoustics with “Messiah” in mind.

It began entirely as an Independence-based RLDS chorus; however, “Messiah” was soon to become a community affair that included people of practically all faiths around the Kansas City metropolitan area, with distinguished professional soloists from across the nation.

Handel’s Messiah has traditionally been performed every year around Thanksgiving at the Community of Christ (RLDS) Auditorium in Independence. However, this year will be the final performance of the choir here in Independence, and sad as that may sound, the best may yet be coming and the people of Independence thank you for all of those wonderful years here at home.

Reference: An Illustrated History of the Messiah, Eileen M. Terril