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ISSUE 117 VOL 11 PUBLISHED 2/27/2004

In harmony at home: Ole choir back from cross-country tour

By Molly Bayrd
Variety Editor

Friday, February 27, 2004

When a choir returns home from a several-week-long cross-country tour, its members might normally rush off to shower, eat, and find some much-needed sleep in their familiar beds. Such was not the case with the St. Olaf Choir, who, upon their arrival home from their annual winter tour, reunited with their peers for a rousing homecoming concert in Boe Chapel last Sunday.

The choir, whose 2004 tour itinerary had the group singing in various locales from Wisconsin to Florida, seemed far removed from the weariness and exhaustion that one might have expected. Instead, the singers took the stage eagerly, displaying wide smiles as they surveyed the filled-to-capacity chapel crowd.

As the first resounding notes of "Jubilate Deo" echoed across the chapel, the Choir began swaying in tune, with a customized bounce to each members movements. The singers held hands throughout the evening, a gesture that tenor Cole Blume 05 described as symbolic of the Choirs "unity and connection" with one another.

After several chorale pieces, including the bright "Lobet den Herrn" and the orchestra-accompanied "Be Thou a Smooth Way," the group followed up a short intermission with a group of decidedly unorthodox pieces. "Little Birds" began with clear bird calls and ended with the Choirs flapping of white, birdlike papers, while "Tres Cantos Nativos Dos Indios Kraó" was saturated with animal noises, clapping, rain sticks and jungle drums.

As Conductor Anton Armstrong introduced the fourth section of the program, he warned the audience that the next piece, "Gospel Mass," was a fairly unconventional piece. "Theres a powerful message to spread throughout this land," Armstrong said, "and tonight thats what we bring to you  a new message of good news." With that, Armstrong concluded that "Gospel Mass" was intended to step outside of the proverbial "square box" and that, "the St. Olaf Choir [always strives] to view that which is not ordinary."

"Gospel Mass" was a drawn-out, soulful and contemporary piece arranged by the evenings guest conductor, Music Instructor Keith McCutchen, and was reminiscent of what one might hear from an energized, jubilant southern Baptist church choir. With an electric bass and drum set for accompaniment, the choir dazzled the audience with several uplifting solos by altos Kira Lace 04 and Valerine Abiola Lepe 05, among others.

As the upbeat, unique sounds of "Gospel Mass" and "John The Revelator" slowly subsided, the concert took an abrupt change of pace. The softer ballads Beautiful Savior, which showcased Laces solo talents once more, and How Can I Keep from Singing, brought the nights festivities to the close. Armstrong took the stage to offer a few parting words before the choir filtered out through Boes middle aisle.

"It [our winter tour] was a good thing we just did," Armstrong said. "Our young people make a difference."

Certainly the choir, whose eventual destination was St. Andrew's Lighthouse in Jacksonville, Florida, made at least some small difference during their 2004 Winter Tour. St. Andrew's, a free housing facility for families of patients at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, was renovated several years ago after the St. Olaf Choir sponsored a concert to benefit the organization. This time around, Armstrong said, St. Andrew's sponsored the Choir.

As Dr. Armstrong stated in his concluding remarks, "Its easy to say youre children of the light when its light; its when its dark [that matters] ... its about the light. I couldnt be more proud of [the Choir]."

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