How the Maine Music Festival Began


For Bethel there was never anything quite like it. Not only would Bethel people have a chance to perform in a statewide musical concert- and  with William Rogers Chapman as  the overall director.  Homer Chase of Auburn would be the festival’s general manager. 

Here’s how it all began:  News from Lewiston, Me, October 16, 1896 reported that a movement to form a musical society in Lewiston, Auburn and several of the towns along the Grand Trunk railway was underway. Goal of the society was to hold an annual musical festival similar to that of the Worcester Music Festival (which started in 1858) is underway. Professor William Rogers Chapman of New York and Bethel would be the “prime mover in the matter”.  Prof. Chapman is the director of the Rubenstein Club in New York and has a summer home in Bethel.

The group planned to organize a chorus of 400 voices in Lewiston, Auburn, Norway, Bethel, and Berlin and Gorham, New Hampshire.  This festival would be presented for one week after the Worcester festival - one night in each of the towns and two nights in Lewiston.  Professor Chapman, it was hoped, would be able to secure such well known soloists as Nordica, Emma Eames and Annie Cary Raymond with whom Chapman was well acquainted. 

January 1897 -Maine Musical Festival: The musical festival to be held in Maine in October, 1897, will, it is hoped, be the first of a series of such events. Lewiston has been selected as the focus (which was later changed), and a chorus of 1,000 Maine voices is to be heard in important musical works, under the leadership of William Rogers Chapman, who is from Maine. Nordica, who is a Maine girl, is to be the leading soloist. There will be an orchestra of 100 pieces. (Chapman also took on the job of creating a Portland Symphony Orchestra for the festival.) The program will cover three evenings and two matinees.

It turned out Lewiston could not provide a sufficiently large auditorium for such a festival – leaving Bangor and Portland as the two Maine venues.

April 1897.  The Bethel Chorus formed in preparation for the fall festival gave a concert which brought praise from Prof. and Mrs. Chapman for being the first in the field to give a concert.  Chorus director Bennett Snyder was presented with a beautiful ivory, ebony and silver baton for his excellent work as director, organizer, coach and singer. Mr. Snyder was a staff member of the Bethel News.

After learning from Chapman of his plans for a music festival Bangor parties were very enthusiastic about its possibilities. In July 183 stockholders formed an association to build an auditorium that could handle a crowed of up to 1,800. By the end of September the new auditorium was completed.

In August the choruses of Norway and Bethel put on a concert at the Norway Congregational Church under the direction of William Rogers Chapman.  Homer Chase festival’s overall general manager attended.

The Bethel Chorus of thirty who made the trip to Norway were:  Bennett Snyder, chorus director, and singers Edgar Barker, Clyde Bartlett, F.F. Bean and wife, J.C. Billings and wife, Minnie Capen, Barbara Carter, Fannie Carter, George Farnsworth, Mrs. Ava Finney, Mrs. C.O. Foster, Nellie Frost, R.W. Glidden, Archie Grover, Laura Hall, Mrs. Ira Jordan, Durward Mason, Alice Purington, Ethel Richardson, Joan Stearns, Mrs. Sadie Tuell, Mr. and Mrs. Charles E. Valentine (Mary Valentine’s grandparents), Lillian Vance, W.S. Wight and wife, Bertha Wiley, and Mrs. Goodwin R. Wiley.

The hoped for Festival appearance of Maine’s world renowned opera star Nordica seemed excellent depending on the singer’s health.

In October the Bethel chorus held its final rehearsal prior to the big festival in Portland. Thirty-six members would enjoy the honor of performing at the first Maine Music Festival. The day’s program would include solos by Madame Nordica, Lillian Blauvelt, Evan Williams and other well known singers.  Tickets were sold at Wiley’s Drug Store for $1.00, $1.50 and $2.00

Portland’s Armory (now the Portland Regency Hotel) became the festival’s home there.  Its architect oversaw a new stage and galleries to accommodate the festival.

In 1897 the Maine Music Festival program schedule was Bangor October 14, 15, and 16; Portland October 18, 19 and 20.

Bethel Day at the Maine Music Festival – Tuesday, October 19.  Chorus news for the week following the Maine Musical Festival show in Portland ran: “Our local chorus is elated over the good time, entertainment and the general success of the musical festival at Portland. Measures have been taken already to continue the work for the ensuing year.”

As the first festival year ended it was announced that Mrs. Gehring will take over as director for the “Chorus” while Mr. Snyder is away visiting his home in Moncton, New Brunswick.

William Rogers Chapman—Director and Conductor

Homer Chase—General Manager

Lillian Nordica—Feature Soloist

Portland Armory—in 2014 it is the Portland Regency Hotel, 20 Milk Street in the Old Port area

Bangor Auditorium constructed especially for the Maine Music Festival  in 1897. It was torn down in 1965 and replaced with a new auditorium

Sources: Bethel Historical Society collections of Oxford County, Lewiston and Bethel newspapers. 


There is a new, very informative publication about the history of the Bangor auditorium which in the first section covers William Rogers Chapman and the Maine Music Festival in Bangor in 1897. Link to this webpage here.


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