A holiday tradition: Bismarck man still singing after 65 years in Messiah chorus

Published: Dec. 25, 2022 at 11:03 AM CST
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BISMARCK, N.D. (KFYR) - Handel’s “Messiah” is a holiday tradition in the capital city. For 92 years, as many as 70 volunteer singers spend months practicing for the annual performance of the holiday classic at Trinity Lutheran church.

There are new faces every year, but among the first-time singers are some seasoned performers.

Harley Swenson feels right at home here, singing this chorus.

“I enjoy the singing. I enjoy the people,” he said.

He’s been singing Handel’s Messiah for the past 65 years.

“I could probably do pretty darn well even without the music because if I haven’t memorized it by now I probably won’t,” he laughed.

Harley first started singing in 1957, as a senior at UND.

“We sang in a church in downtown Grand Forks,” he recalled.

He’s been singing here at Trinity Lutheran in Bismarck since 1958. Over the years, Harley has only missed two performances; one year because he was sick, and one year because of his daughter’s wedding.

Family members have often joined Harley. His son Mark has sung for a number of years.

“I like singing now. I hated singing when I was younger,” said Mark.

Harley’s daughter and granddaughter have also joined.

“It’s just another thing that we can share together and enjoy together and make memories,” said Harley.

Harley has those memories safety tucked away with his music. At 86 years old, Harley isn’t done singing yet.

“They can’t get rid of me, I guess,” he laughed.

Because here, Harley can’t help but reflect on years gone by, and on the true meaning of Christmas.

Harley says his favorite part of the Messiah is the Hallelujah Chorus. He says that is the most inspiring and meaningful of the whole performance.