- Associated Press - Sunday, April 6, 2014

AXTELL, Neb. (AP) - A Central Nebraska music teacher is preparing to conduct George Frideric Handel’s “Messiah” for the 57th spring in a row.

The Kearney Hub reports (http://bit.ly/1lEOX9E ) that Rod Wendell is looking forward to directing the production again next weekend.

Wendell said he never expected “Messiah” to become an annual event when he first led a performance of it as a 29-year-old music teacher in Axtell.

“That first year, we all thought it went pretty good,” Wendell said, so he did it for a second year, a third and a fourth. “People kept asking for it, so it became an annual deal.”

Wendell has many fond memories of the shows, including the musician who went into labor but kept playing the piano.

He even received a letter from President George W. Bush congratulating him on the 50th annual performance in 2007.

This year’s chorus of 70 is expected to include three people who sang in Wendell’s first production in 1958. And several other performers will be the second and third generations of their families to sing in the show.

One of the soloists, Senja Stephens, has sung in the “Messiah” every Palm Sunday for 22 years.

For the first 37 years, the show was performed in Axtell’s high school gym before moving into several area churches. Since 1998, it has been performed in Kearney.

Over the years the production has grown to include more instruments and singers, and Wendell’s family no longer has to handle all the decorating and ticket sales the way they did at the first performances.

Now there is a 10-person board that oversees the event and takes care of ticket sales and promotions.

Wendell said he’s glad he has the chance to share the “Mesiah” with the community each year.

“Music,” Wendell said, “touches the heart and soul.”

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Information from: Kearney Hub, http://www.kearneyhub.com/