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The Bach Choir of Bethlehem: Bio

The oldest American Bach Choir, The Bach Choir of Bethlehem gave the first complete American performances of Bach's Mass in B Minor in 1900 and Christmas Oratorio in 1901. Since its founding in 1898, the now-famous Choir has been attracting thousands of visitors from across the United States and beyond to the annual Bethlehem Bach Festival in Pennsylvania. Since 1983, under Greg Funfgeld's passionate and experienced direction, the 100 dedicated volunteer singers of The Bach Choir of Bethlehem, performing with the Bach Festival Orchestra and distinguished soloists, have received international acclaim. Venues have included the Herkulessaal at Munich's Royal Residence and the Thomaskirche, Bach's church in Leipzig, as part of the 1995 Germany tour; the Kennedy Center and Carnegie Hall as part of The Choir's Centennial Celebration in 1999-2000; a performance for the BBC Proms in London's Royal Albert Hall as part of an eight-concert tour of the United Kingdom in 2003; and a performance as part of the 75th anniversary of the Baldwin-Wallace Bach Festival in Severance Hall, Cleveland, in 2007.

The Choir has released five recordings of Bach works, in addition to the popular four- volume Christmas in Bethlehem. This recording is the Choir's first for Analekta, Canada's premiere classical recording company. The Choir has been featured on National Public Radio's Performance Today and Prairie Home Companion, Deutsche Radio, the BBC World Service, CBS Sunday Morning, and the Emmy award-winning PBS documentary on the Choir, Make a Joyful Noise. In addition to the annual Bethlehem Bach Festival, the concert season in Bethlehem includes Christmas and Spring Concerts; a Family Concert; Bach at Noon a series of free concerts in the historic Central Moravian Church; and Bach to School, an outstanding educational outreach program that has now been presented to more than 75,000 children. Mr. Bach Comes to Call, a film based on the acclaimed Classical Kids CD, was produced by The Bach Choir of Bethlehem in collaboration with Touchstone Theatre and GreenTreks Network in 2007. It has been broadcast nationally on PBS
and is distributed internationally by
The Children's Group.

The Mission of The Bach Choir of Bethlehem is to perform the works of Johann Sebastian Bach, to promote and encourage appreciation of the aesthetic and spiritual value of Bach's music through education and performance, including performances of works by composers who influenced Bach or were influenced by him, and to strive for the highest standards
of musical excellence.

We are the oldest American Bach Choir, performing the first American performances of The Mass in B Minor and The Christmas Oratorio. Since its founding in 1898, the now-famous Choir has been attracting thousands of national and international visitors every May to its annual
Bethlehem Bach Festival.

Under Greg Funfgeld's passionate direction, 100 volunteer members sing not only with traditional Bach Choir dedication and enthusiasm, but also with a new level of musicianship and understanding of Bach's choral universe. Today's performances feature the finely-honed vocal ensemble, a fully professional orchestra, and world-renowned soloists. The repertoire includes 133 cantatas, all of the motets, and 15 of Bach's larger works.

During the past decade The Choir has received critical acclaim for performances at the Thomaskirche in Leipzig, the Herkulessaal at Munich's Royal Residence, The Kennedy Center in Washington, and Carnegie Hall in New York, as well as for its recordings on the Dorian label. The Choir toured the United Kingdom in July, 2003, including a performance for the prestigious BBC Proms in London's Royal Albert Hall. In May 2007 The Choir celebrated its
100th Festival.

The Choir has presented its outstanding "Bach to School" program to nearly 70,000 children. Other educational programs include the annual Family Concert, a Choral Scholars program for gifted high-school seniors who sing with The Choir for one year, and a Philadelphia High School
Bach Weekend.

The Choir is also one of many organizations worldwide dedicated to the performance of Bach's music. Here is a list of some of the ones we're in touch with.

Historical Review
1898 A group of singers is organized on December 5, 1898 by Ruth Porter Doster to study Bach's Mass in B Minor under the leadership of J. Fred Wolle, organist of the Bethlehem Moravian Church, Founder and first Conductor of The Bach Choir.
Ralph R. Hillman is elected first President of The Choir and Ruth Doster, Secretary.

1900 The Bach Choir presents the first American performance of The Mass in B Minor under Wolle's direction at the 1st Bach Festival on March 27, 1900 in the Moravian Church. The performance commemorates the 150th anniversary of Bach's death. The Moravian Trombone Choir establishes the tradition of playing Bach chorales from the belfry of the church.

1905 The Bach Choir disbands when Wolle accepts a professorship at the University of California at Berkeley. 1911 Wolle returns to Bethlehem. The Bach Choir is revived by a group of community leaders including Charles M. Schwab.

1912 The annual Bach Festivals are reinstituted. The Bach Choir, accompanied by the Philadelphia Orchestra, performs for the first time in Packer Memorial Church on the campus of Lehigh University.Under Schwab's leadership the Guarantor System is begun to insure the financial stability of The Bach Choir. Henry S. Drinker, President of Lehigh University, is elected as the second President of The Choir.

1917 The Philharmonic Society of New York invites The Bach Choir to sing in a Bach-Beethoven program at Carnegie Hall in celebration of the 75th anniversary of
the Philharmonic Society.

1918 The Bach Choir joins the Philharmonic Society in New York again, for a Bach-Wagner concert, and is invited to Schwab's home on Riverside Drive. At the festival in Bethlehem, during this time of war, the Star Spangled Banner is sung before each Friday session as well as on the green between sessions on Saturday. Mrs. Theodore Roosevelt and other national figures are in attendance. The book The Bethlehem Bach Choir, authored by Raymond Walters, is published in April.

1921 Charles M. Schwab is named the third President of The Choir. In November, at the invitation of The Philadelphia Orchestra, The Choir sings The Mass in B Minor at The Academy of Music, to a capacity audience.

1925 The Choir is chosen, as the most representative of America's musical organizations, to perform The Mass in B Minor in an Easter Concert for the International Conference of World Fellowship Through Music in the new Washington, D.C. Auditorium. The Choir is invited aboard the Presidential yacht and to the White House to be greeted by President and Mrs. Calvin Coolidge. The Choir is photographed in front of
the White House.

1926 Ruth M. Linderman becomes the fourth Choir President.

1933 J. Fred Wolle dies. A memorial performance of The Mass in B Minor, paying tribute to Wolle, is conducted by Bruce Carey, who becomes The Choir's second Conductor.

1934 Carey, from Girard College in Philadelphia, conducts the Bach Festival. Henry S. Snyder is chosen the fifth Choir President.

1939 Ifor Jones, Welsh-born musician, organist, and former professor at Rutgers University, debuts as the third Conductor of The Bach Choir.

1942 Gretchen Wolle presents Bach editions, used by her father, to Lehigh University. A plaque honoring J. Fred Wolle is placed in Packer Memorial Church.

1943 Saturday morning concerts are added to the festivals. Dr. William Estes, Jr. is elected sixth President of The Choir.

1947 An estimated 9,200 people attend a performance of The Mass in B Minor at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York. Ifor Jones conducts The Choir and members of The Philadelphia Orchestra.

1948 The Choir records Cantata #78 for Victor Records.

1949 A second weekend is added to the Bach Festival.

1957 The 50th Bach Festival is held. Ifor Jones opens the Thursday evening rehearsal to the community.

1959 The Bach Festival Orchestra premieres at the May Festival, replacing the Philadelphia Orchestra.

1961 Elmer L. Mack becomes the seventh Choir President.

1962 The 55th Bach Festival is dedicated to Albert Schweitzer, with a letter from Schweitzer printed in the program.

1965 The Choir is invited to sing at the International Choral Festival in October, commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Handel and Haydn Society in Symphony Hall, Boston. Charles H. Wiekel is elected eighth President of The Choir.

1969 The Hon. Carleton T. Woodring becomes The Choir's ninth President. Alfred Mann, Professor of Music at Rutgers University and Editor of The American Choral Review, becomes the fourth Conductor of The Choir.

1972 Kenneth L. Houck is named as the tenth Choir President. A special concert of the 100th performance of The Mass in B Minor is given on May 22 as a gift to the community from The Choir.

1975 The Albert Schweitzer Fellowship invites The Bach Choir to join in a January evening of tribute to Albert Schweitzer's 100th birthday at Carnegie Hall in a performance of the first and last choruses of the Saint Matthew passion and the Kyrie from The Mass. In November, Eugene Ormandy conducts The Bach Choir and the Philadelphia Orchestra in three performances of The Mass in B Minor at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia to sell-out audiences. This is followed by the fourth performance with Ormandy and The Orchestra in Carnegie Hall, New York.

1976 The Choir arrives in Germany to perform in the 51st International Bach Society Festival and travels behind the iron curtain to sing at the Thomaskirche, Bach's church in Leipzig. As our nation celebrates its bicentennial, a bronze plaque commemorating The Bach Choir's 1st Festival in 1900 is dedicated and placed at Central Moravian Church.

1980 William Reese, Professor of Music at Haverford College, becomes the fifth Conductor of The Choir.

1981 Thomas T. Church is elected the eleventh President of The Choir.

1983 Greg Funfgeld becomes Artistic Director and sixth Conductor of
The Bach Choir.

1986 The first annual Christmas Concert is held at the First Presbyterian Church in Bethlehem on December 14. Greg Funfgeld directs The Choir in Bach's
Christmas Oratorio.

1988 The Bach Choir and Festival Orchestra, Greg Funfgeld conducting, records Christmas in Leipzig with
Dorian Recordings.

1989 Greg Funfgeld conducts The Bach Choir and The Bach Festival Orchestra in Wachet Auf!, a second recording on
the Dorian label.

1990 Greg Funfgeld institutes a Spring Concert with a performance on March 18 of The Passion According to Saint John.

1991 Janice S. Bonge is chosen as twelfth President of The Choir.

1993"Bach to School", an educational program, is begun for the development of young audiences, reaching more than 5,000 students a year in the Lehigh Valley.

1994 In advance of the upcoming trip to Germany, The Choir produces a recording of Christmas carols and Bach chorales, Christmas in Bethlehem, which becomes an immediate success.

1995 The Choir returns to the Thomaskirche, the church Bach served in Leipzig, Germany and also gives a performance of The Mass in B Minor in the Herkulessaal in Munich.

1996 John A. Jordan, Jr. is elected as The Choir's thirteenth President.

1997Christmas in Bethlehem, volume 2, a second recording of Christmas carols including a hymn by J. Fred Wolle, is recorded by The Choir and released as a preview to the Centennial.

1998 The 100th Anniversary of the founding of The Bach Choir. The Centennial Commemoration commences at the May Festival. A new recording of The Mass in B Minor is released on the Dorian label. Bach in Bethlehem, a 108-page pictorial history of The Bach Choir, is published by author and historian Ralph Grayson Schwarz.

1999 The Choir performs The Mass at The Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., as part of the Centennial celebration. 
The Christmas Oratorio was recorded
and released.

2000 Continuing the Centennial celebration, The Choir performs The Mass in B Minor again, at Carnegie Hall, to a standing ovation and four curtain calls.

The first annual Family Concert is held at Zoellner Arts Center, Lehigh University on February 27th. The concert, based on the popular Bach to School program, fills the hall with children and their adult companions for an hour of music, followed by a cake to celebrate The Choir's birthday. The Bach Choir in collaboration with The Bach Festival of Philadelphia presented a full day of master classes to students form four Philadelphia high schools. The program culminated in a public performance on November 12.

2001 A New Generation Inspired by Bach, a video documenting The Bach Choir's educational programs including the 2000/2001 Family Concert, Bach To School and the Philadelphia High School Bach Weekend is produced. For the first time, The Bach Choir performs the works of composers, Mendelssohn and Brahms, who were influenced by Bach. Pieces performed at the 2001 Spring Concert included: Mendelssohn's opus 78 motet, Richte mich, Gott and Brahm's motet Schaffe in mir Gott.

2002 Two new recordings are released: The Ascension Oratorio and Two Festive Cantatas  BWV 11, 51 & 34; and Christmas in Bethlehem, volume 3.

2003 In July, The Choir tours the United Kingdom presenting eight concerts that included performances at the Cambridge Summer Music Festival in King's College Chapel, Usher Hall in Edinburgh, the St. Alban's International Organ Festival, the Sheldonian Theatre, Oxford, and the prestigious BBC Proms in London's
Royal Albert Hall.

The Bach Choir premieres I It Am, a cantata by Libby Larsen that was co-commissioned by The Choir and the BBC.

2004 Make A Joyful Noise, an Emmy award-winning documentary on The Bach Choir, is produced by Lehigh Valley PBS WLVT airs nationwide.

David G. Beckwith, PhD is elected as the Choir's fourteenth President.

2005 Bach At Noon, a free noon-time concert series presented by members of The Choir and Bach Festival Orchestra under the direction of Greg Funfgeld, debuts at Central Moravian Church. A cantata and an instrumental piece are performed. Mr. Funfgeld introduces the music with an informal talk. The performance is announced by the Bethlehem Area Moravian Trombone Choir playing from the church belfry. The series is presented on second Tuesdays, September - November and January - April. A capacity audience of 1,000 people attends the inaugural concert. The Bach Choir is invited to sing the Mass in B Minor at Millersville University in celebration of its 150th anniversary. Moravian College in partnership with The Bach Choir of Bethlehem receives NEH Grant to introduce teachers to Bach in a five-week institute called Bach Across the Centuries. The program was part of the NEH Summer Institute for School Teachers and focused on the cultural background and connections of the music of J.S. Bach. It was co-directed by Hilde Binford, assistant professor of music at Moravian College, and Paul Larson, professor emeritus of music, and Archivist for The Bach Choir.

2006? The public phase of The Second Century Fund Campaign, a $2.7 million comprehensive campaign to raise funds for the endowment and general operating funds, is launched in February. The Bach Collegium of Japan performs the annual Spring Concert. A new recording, Christmas in Bethlehem,
volume 4 is released.

2007 The Choir performs The Mass in B Minor at Severence Hall in Cleveland, Ohio in celebration of the 75th Anniversary of the Baldwin Wallace Bach Festival. The Choir celebrates the 100th annual Bach Festival in May with performances of The Mass in B Minor and the St. Matthew Passion. In addition, the Baltimore Consort performs Chamber Music at Peter Hall; Taylor 2, the touring ensemble of the Paul Taylor Dance Company performs with the Bach Festival Orchestra at the Ifor Jones Memorial Chamber Music concert, The Choir performs during a Cantata Service at Central Moravian Church with homilist Rev. Dr. Martin Marty, and Donal Fox, Blues on Bach Project performs at the Bach Jazz Cabaret held in the Hotel Bethlehem. Over 7,000 people attend the Festival performances. Mr. Bach Comes To Call premieres in both Bethlehem and Allentown prior to the international release by The children's Group and national broadcast on PBS. The Second Century Fund Campaign is completed with $3.5 million raised includes $2.1 million for the endowment. Five of the seven Bach at Noon concerts, which continue with overwhelming success are endowed. The Bach Choir of Bethlehem was featured on a live broadcast of Prairie Home Companion, December 22 at Zoellner Arts Center at Lehigh University.

2008 Mr. Bach Comes To Call film was nominated for a 2008 Mid-Atlantic
Emmy Award.

The Bach Choir of Bethlehem

A Child's Christmas In Bethlehem


Click Here For Artist Stories

1 Prologue  
2 Gaarder - The Christmas Mystery (Story)  
3 Telfer - Carol - Mary Wondered  
4 Noe eL Nouvelet  
5 Porter - Noe eL (Poem)  
6 Olatunji/Whalum - Betelehemu  
7 Chesterton - The House Of Christmas (Poem)  
8 Umla - Sleep Well Thou Child Of God  
9 Thino/J.S. Bach - O Jesulein Seuss  
10 Milhous - Snow Over Bethlehem (Story)  
11 Long Ago In Bethlehem  
12 Hughes/Walker - Shepherd's Song At Christmas  
13 Blake - Little Lamb Who Made Thee (Poem)  
14 Baring-Gould/Chilcott - The Angel Gabriel Dormi Dormi  
15 3 Kings Day: Roque -Tic-Toc (Poem)  
16 Padilla - The Night We Almost Saw The 3 Kings (Story)  
17 Lugo - Puerto Rico's Christmas In Bethlehem (Poem)  
18 A La Nanita Nana  
19 Cowper/Britten - God Moves In A Mysterious Way  
20 Herrick - What Sweeter Music (Poem)  
21 Woodward/Wilberg - Ding Dong Merrily On High  
The Bach Choir of Bethlehem 2013 Educational Outreach Video
Bach at Noon and The Bach Choir of Bethlehem 2014

Under the direction of Greg Funfgeld The Bach Choir of Bethlehem is joined by The Bel Canto Children's Chorus, and accompanied by organ, piano, violins, guitar, handbells and percussion for A Child's Christmas in Bethlehem . The voices of adults and children; poets from Robert Herrick, William Blake and Langston Hughes to 10 year old Carla Victoria Lugo; storytellers from Jostein Gaarder to Zaida Padilla; and composers from Johann Sebastian Bach to John Rutter and Bob Chilcott combine to create pure delight for the ears and the heart. 

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