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Harmonia Society: Home

written by Jamie Bradley

Harmonia Society

The Berea Harmonia Society was officially approved in 1871. The early Berea Catalogs describe the Harmonia Society as: “A permanent organization of the musical talent of College and town for the study of the best musical productions. It gives an annual concert and appears on other public occasions ("Music Department", p.73).

Harmonia Society and Handel’s Messiah

In 1895 the Harmonia Society began its tradition of singing Handel’s Messiah, although at that time they were only singing pieces of it. In 1899 under the direction of Ira Penniman and William W. Weaver they sang the entire score at an Easter concert. In 1905 Professor Ralph Rigby began his extensive service to the Harmonia Society which eventually lasted for approximately 37 years. Professor Rigby continued Berea’s tradition in performing Handel’s Messiah and in 1906 he himself performed the opening tenor recitative. In the spring of 1908 Berea’s traditional rendition of the Messiah in which nine choruses were sung was performed marking the first official annual rendition of Handel’s Messiah.” When fall came around that year Professor Rigby announced that the Harmonia Society would perform it again during Christmas time that year, saying, “It is our intention to give this work once each year hereafter as a Christmas event.” Upon this declaration the membership of the Harmonia Society increased thirty percent.

Other Performances

The Harmonia Society performed various other pieces in addition to Handel’s Messiah. They sang numerous oratorios such as Mendelssohm’s Elijah and Saint Paul, as well as Hayden’s The Creation. They also performed musical dramas as well. In 1913 the Harmonia Society presented the Queen Esther. This was executed by three choruses of over 125 people and 16 soloists. The entire performance was carried out in full costumes, and at one point a live horse was even brought on stage. The Harmonia Society performed several other musical dramas like this including: Heroes 76’, Robin Hood, Pirates of Penzance, and Carousal.

After Professor Rigby retired in 1944 and Dr. Rolf Hovey took over. Dr. Hovey introduced a new variety of musical selections for the Harmonia to sing under his direction. He presented everything from hymns and folk songs of the Appalachian Mountains to The German Requim by Johannes Brahms. In a 1962 program for a Berea showcase Dr. Hovey stated that the objective of the Berea Harmonia Society was to “give Berea student and opportunity to (1) sing some grand opera choruses and arias, (2) to sing some Broadway ‘show tunes,’ and (3) to become better acquainted with a culture foreign to our experience.

Additional Informational Tidbits

"The Harmonia Society, numbering some fifty voices, affords training for singers and enjoyment for all. It practices each Wednesday night, gives at least one public concert each year, and aids at other entertainments." (BCC, Bulletin May 1905, Series 3 No. 1, p16)

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