The day began for St. Olafs musicians at 11 a.m. when the choirs gathered together in Skoglund to rehearse. For many of the attending high schools, however, the day began much earlier as the musicians arrived on campus from across the state; the Brookfield East Chamber Choir arrived in Northfield the night before. After the rehearsal, the various high schools flooded Stav Hall for lunch; at one point, the line of more than 1,200 students ran down both flights of stairs, nearly reaching the Bookstore.
The day culminated at 4 p.m. with the concert, which featured the Brookfield East Chamber Choir, the Hastings High School Choir, the Minnesota Boys Choir and the Stillwater Choir, as well as the St. Olaf Choir and Viking Chorus.
The Festival Choir, made up of the six featured choirs plus St. Olaf's Cantorei and Chapel Choirs and Manitou Singers and students from high schools across the state -- more than 1,500 singers all together -- opened the performance with Climb to the "Top of the Highest Mountain," a soulful piece based on text from the Book of Isaiah. Following the Festival Choirs opening piece, the Minnesota Boy Choir performed four pieces, including "Praise His Holy Name," a gospel song that roused the audience to a standing ovation.
Performers and directors alike applauded the benefits of the festival. Clifton Nesseth '10, a member of Viking Chorus, praised the festival as a great resource to get students interested in [St. Olaf's] choral program. Clifton himself was attracted to St. Olaf after hearing the St. Olaf Choir perform.
Anton Armstrong '78, director of the St. Olaf Choir and Sunday's Festival choir, commented that programs like St. Olaf's offer benefits far beyond the festival or even the program itself. "Music programs strengthen the body, mind, spirit and voice," he said.
A sense of humanity dominated the concert, as the pieces performed embodied the spectrum of human experience and human emotion. Performances like Viking Chorus multi-part "The Word Was God" or the St. Olaf Choir's "This Little Light of Mine" and "Praise to the Lord," evoked joy and quiet determination.
Mourning and faith were also taken into account. Performing "Ani Maamin," an ancient Hebrew hymn of allegiance to God, the Hastings Choir described the faith of Jewish Germans as they sang that very same song upon entering the gas chambers of concentration camps during the Holocaust. At one point, a speaker stepped from the choir and called for a unified humanity. "This," she implored, "this is why we sing."
Armstrong underscored the fact that music builds community by uniting musicians and audiences in their humanity. "It is important that these students realize that their music can change them and their audience," he said. "Music changes."