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ISSUE 119 VOL 6 PUBLISHED 10/28/2005

Vespers focuses on pilgrimage

By Lindsey Myers
Contributing Writer

Friday, October 28, 2005

Sunday evening, slightly before 7:30 p.m., Boe Memorial Chapel was filled with a light murmur. Students and Northfield residents awaited the beginning of the Vespers service with anticipation.

Two candles flickered on either side of the altar, and the pews were nearly full. Finally, the time came for the service to begin. One hundred twenty red-robed students streamed to their spots behind the altar onto risers and steps. Vespers had begun.

Vespers, or evening prayer, is a service that has been an annual event at St. Olaf for nearly 40 years. Marked by the presence of candles and a performance by the Chapel Choir, it is a service whose theme varies yearly depending on the readings of the liturgy.

This year’s service began with a powerful performance of “Pilgrim’s Hymn.” Some choirs take a few songs to get acclimated to a concert, but Chapel Choir was not one of them.

“Pilgrim’s Hymn” set a pattern for the rest of the service, washing over the congregation with rich tones, delicious vowels and poignant lyrics of devotion. Its final departing chord of “Amen” pulled out that extra bass presence that sends shivers down the spine.

The service proceeded with Eva Nelson ’06 leading as cantor, and a fifth candle was brought out. Shortly thereafter, the choir brought the familiar words of Psalm 23 to new life as it sang a beautiful arrangement of the piece by Jackman.

The repertoire continued from there, particularly impressing the congregation with three diverse and powerful motets. After an energetic beginning to the final motet, “Coelos Ascendit,” the choir had gained the congregation’s full attention.

The service drew to a close after a few final anthems, including a lovely and unique rendition of “Be Thou a Smooth Way.” Once the final “Amen” had been spoken, all reverence was set aside for a boisterous celebration of the choir, complete with catcalls, whooping and lengthy applause.

More than a solemn evening service of prayer and worship, Vespers was also a service of celebration and appreciation for the talented singers our campus boasts.

Such a successful performance must also be accredited to a talented conductor, Assistant Professor of Music Christopher Aspaas. A friendly and animated leader, Aspaas has a contagious energy about him that contributed to the success of the first concert of Aspaas’s first year on staff.

“He’s an amazing director to work with. At the beginning of the year he made us three promises,” Catie Overfelt ’08, a first soprano, said. “The first promise was that every day we would laugh. The second was that every day we’d have a musical moment. And the third was that we’d always get out on time. He has stuck to those and has made choir an amazing, happy time out of my day.”

This service testifies to the ease with which he has been able to transition into the St. Olaf community. Aspaas hand-selected the beautiful repertoire featured Sunday evening in hopes of matching the texts that dealt with ideas of pilgrimage and travel.

“I had all of this imagery about motion, walking, movement, so all of the pieces talked about this movement on a daily basis, offering prayers for travel and thoughts about moving through life to get where we’re going,” he said.

Aspaas has a knack and passion for what he does. He noted that his job is made easier by the quality of the men and women involved in choir, alluding to the well-roundedness of the participating members and their willingness to learn.

“It’s about playing more than one note on the piano, and St. Olaf kids have definitely mastered that. This choir has a vibrancy—we’ve got student athletes and studio art majors and everyone from across the board coming together to make music,” Aspaas said.

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