The heritage of Lecompton meets the heritage of Christmas with the annual Lecompton Vespers Dec. 6.
The program, held at the Territorial Capital Museum, will feature music by the Lecompton Community Choir, the Perry-Lecompton High School Choir, the bell choir of the First United Methodist Church of Topeka, vocal soloists and a piano and organ duet.
Paul Bahnmaier, president of the Lecompton Historical Society, says the program is a unique part of the community’s history because the United Methodist Church has a strong musical tradition.
Bahnmaier says the program tries to steer away from contemporary songs and sticks to classic Christmas hymns.
“It’s a tribute to the heritage of Lecompton,” Bahnmaier says. “It’s truly a traditional, old-fashioned Christmas.”
Bahnmaier’s favorite part of the afternoon is “Silent Night” played on the 153-year-old melodeon. The melodeon is often called a poor man’s organ because it is smaller and lighter than a regular organ and was made to be carried in covered wagon. It belonged to the Lecompton Episcopal Church in 1857 and went to a family in North Carolina when the church closed in 1858. The family gave it to the museum in 1983.
Frances Sanford has played the piano for the Vespers for about 25 years. For the past few years, she has played a duet with organist Cindy Daniels. Sanford says she loves the program for the music but also the time shared with fellow community members.
“We’re all people that enjoy the spirit of Christmas,” Sanford says. “It’s such a warm feeling — a true community gathering.”
Kim Stewart has been directing the community choir since 1988. Stewart says people from surrounding communities of Big Springs and Stull join the United Methodist choir in the concert. The choir performs about four songs and always ends with “We Wish You A Merry Christmas.”
“They’re straight out of the hymnal,” Stewart says. “We stay with the stuff people grew up hearing — songs that are near and dear to them.”
The traditional Christmas feeling isn’t limited to the music. For the concert, the museum is transformed with a dazzling array of Christmas decorations. The three levels of the museum are filled with red and white poinsettias and themed Christmas trees. All the trees are decked with colorful, handmade ornaments and candles. The highlight, however, is the 15-foot native cedar brought from a local prairie to add to the feel of a historic Lecompton holiday.
Stewart says many people aren’t aware how beautiful the museum is, especially when decorated for Christmas.
“They’re just in awe,” Stewart says. “I think they come to this little town with little expectations.”
Stewart says although the concert is smaller than others in the area, people often comment on the warm, cozy mood of the afternoon.
“There’s just a feeling,” she says. “If you’re looking for a way to start out the season this has to be it.”