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ISSUE 115 VOL 12 PUBLISHED 2/22/2002

The glorious sounds of St. Olaf music ensembles

By Anonymous
Contributing Writer

Friday, February 22, 2002

As a result of their efforts to have the nation hear their distinct resonance, they have helped persuade talented prospective students to come to the college over such prestigious music conservatories as Oberlin and Lawrence. One reason the St. Olaf Choir is so well known is because of its history. The choir has sung since 1871, and in 1920 it became one of the first touring choirs in the nation. “Chris Johnson took the choir in 1920 to the east coast unknown, and they came back world famous,” according to B.J. Johnson, the manager of the choir, who has worked with the choir for 24 years and has helped make them the talk of the town. However, the most well known attraction is the Christmas Festival, which is broadcast on PBS every year. The promotions and sales of the choir’s 21 CDs have reached the homes of thousands. St. Olaf Choir is often used as the standard for all other college choirs. It is right up there with professional choirs, says Johnson. The choir reaches such high standards as a result of not only its talented student body, but also how that student body works together to be one. We hold hands and it makes us a unified group. We sing with a specific message of healing and gift, which makes us a unique choir, says Greg Wright, student manger of the choir and three-year member. There are many other colleges in Minnesota that have very good choirs. According to Johnson, Concordia Moorhead College is a strong example. But The St. Olaf Choir was the seed for all the other choirs. Even the conductor of Concordia Moorhead College, Rene Clausen, is a St. Olaf graduate. Both the conductors for the choir and orchestra have had a tremendous influence on their students. Another unique quality about the choir and the orchestra is that they have changed conductors very few times in the span of a century, which allows for a greater bond between conductor and students. The St. Olaf Orchestra, which began in 1906, promotes its publicity through the Christmas Festival and also performed in A Prairie Home Companion hosted by Garrison Keiller. Richard Erickson is responsible for the orchestras publicity. He works so hard to get the orchestra into good places. Most orchestras dont get to play in the places we do, says Lindsay Smith, student president of the orchestra and four year member. Smith, who looked at music conservatories while touring the college scene, heard the brass section of the orchestra play on her visit. They played ‘Fanfare for a Common Manand it moved me to tears. The music was incredible and all the orchies stayed to listen even though rehearsal was over. You could respect the conductor (Steven Amundson) so much. I knew I wanted to be a part of that. The St. Olaf Orchestra has been able to perform at such halls as the Chicago Symphony. Smith felt that performing there was an amazing experience, but performing at schools and seeing the passion for music grow within students is even more gratifying. Erickson says the orchestra compares favorably to professional orchestras. One thing that makes the choir go beyond other talented college choirs is that one doesnt have to be consumed by it. Here, biology majors can sing in the choir if they want to, unlike colleges such as Oberlin where you have to major in it, commented Erickson. The orchestra will next perform on Mar. 15 with guest conductor Henry Charles Smith. The choir will be performing Mar. 17 in Minneapolis in collaboration with West Minister College. Many students are drawn to St. Olaf College because of the reputation of its music department. It is truly amazing to attend a liberal arts college that challenges both the mind and the heart in intellectual pursuits and musical dreams.

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