LINDSBORG ‒ The festival schedule online opens with a photo, a section of the Smoky Valley Middle School marching band, youngsters in traditional Swedish costume. And there with the saxophone line is Jay Steinberg, wide smile and Swedish get-up, arm raised in a wave to the parade crowd.
Steinberg had been a fixture at Hyllningsfest for decades before he died in May 2015 after a long battle with cancer.
It has been ten years ‒ five festivals ‒ since Steinberg marched in the Hyllningsfest parade. He was a round, elfin-like man with boundless energy and a love of all things music, especially when it involved youngsters. Steinberg taught music in the Smoky Valley Schools for decades, and he became music’s definition for the schools, the community, for Hyllningsfest.
And as a celebrated musician, he was much a part of festival performances of the Smoky Valley Men’s Choir. Less is more, Steinberg seemed to say, or play. His clarinet or oboe came on in an elegant whisper, a lustrous accent for the Choir’s voice, polishing phrases like a soft cloth, bringing luster to a movement.
Steinberg was originally from New Jersey, landed here in the 1970s and never left. Steinberg was dean of the Smoky Valley Schools music faculty and an instructor at Lindsborg Middle School and Smoky Valley High School. He also taught at Wichita State.
As Hyllningsfest approached, Steinberg was up with the sun and the town knew it. Band members were in practice mode, marching up the streets, Steinberg at the students’ side, shouting above the drums, checking the lines, checking the lines again, and when the band began to play, he would step away and slightly back, still marching, as the students strutted crisply ahead of him. He wanted them in front. He wanted them and their music to be noticed first and always.
When those youngsters come marching this year, give them a wave – and a thought to Jay.
For more than a quarter-century, the Smoky Valley Men’s Choir has delighted audiences with superb evidence that music is a footing for this community. More is in store on Friday, Oct. 13, when the Choir performs at 6:30 p.m. at Bethany Lutheran Church. The Choir, under the direction of Leah Ann Anderson, was established in 1997; its members ‒ 45 this year ‒ come together only every two years for Hyllningsfest. They have been in two-hour rehearsals every Tuesday for two months.
In recent years the group has been in such demand that its performance schedule has continued into the Christmas holidays. On December 9 the Men’s Choir will perform at roughly 7 p.m. at the Swedish Pavilion in Heritage Square. The event is part of the Old Fashioned Christmas celebration at the Lindsborg Old Mill and Swedish Heritage Museum.
Praise for this Choir has been long and effusive. There are not enough superlatives to tell its magnetic resonance, its clarity and vigor and passion.
“This year we’ll present a lively variety, some new works and the traditional ones,” Anderson said. “We’ll have a lot of soloists, and some big pieces, and in the final section, spirituals, all exciting music ‒ and a little surprise, something I won’t divulge just yet.”
The Choir was the idea of Carroll Lindgren who at the time, in 1997, was a member of the Hyllningsfest Committee. Because of Sweden’s long tradition of men’s choirs, Lindgren believed it only fitting that one be established in Lindsborg.
Anderson is a retired choral music instructor at Smoky Valley High School and has taught at Bethany College. She has directed the Men’s Choir since it was founded and insists on preserving its heritage as a community choir, its concerts informal.
“We’re not a professional group,” she has said, “but we do have a lot of talent, and this enables me to raise the bar when choosing literature for the singers.”