St. Olaf Choir merges choral tradition with Norse heritage in dazzling All Saints Chapel performance

St. Olaf Choir performing Christmas in Norway. Photo courtesy of Google Images.

By Caroline Nixon
Staff Writer

The St. Olaf Choir recently performed in All Saints Chapel to a crowd of over 500. The performance was a part of their 2019 Winter Tour, which included shows at 14 cities in the course of a month. Sewanee was their third stop, after two cold weather concerts in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and Mason City, Iowa.

“The St. Olaf Choir is flying south for the winter,” University Chaplian Tom Macfie (C’80) joked, “given it is currently -27 degrees in St. Olaf right now.”

The choir hails from a private Lutheran college of the same name in Northfield, Minnesota. The college boasts a renowned music program, with 19 music ensembles and over 500 students.

The St. Olaf’s Choir is one of the eight choirs of the college and has won two Regional Emmys in 2014 for the PBS broadcast of Christmas in Norway at St. Olaf Choir, among other honors.

The choir is led by Anton Armstrong, who has conducted the St. Olaf Choir for 29 years. He believes that it takes the whole person – body, mind, spirit, and voice – to sing and rejoice. This belief was clear in the choir’s performance, as, unlike the still nature of most ensembles, the St. Olaf Choir as they held hands and swayed to the music, additionally upholding their unique brand of excellence.

“They looked like they enjoyed what they were singing,” a University of the South chorister said.

The choir offered an impressive performance, singing 20 songs completely by memory, unlike most choirs, which often use sheet music. For the first half of the concert the choir reminded the crowd of both their Lutheran and Norse roots, singing hymns in Latin and Old Norse. After the intermission the choir paid tribute to famous American composer Andre J. Thomas, giving his arrangements their own choral twist.

“This is my fourth time seeing them,” said Dr. Geoffrey Ward, the University Organist and Choirmaster, “and each time they offer a new experience.”

After Sewanee, the tour continued on to Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia and will conclude at the New World Center Concert Hall in Miami, Florida.