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ISSUE 120 VOL 10 PUBLISHED 12/6/2006

For God so loves the world: Choirs, orchestra deliver beautiful, successful Christmas Festival

By Ryan Benson
Contributing Writer

Wednesday, December 6, 2006

Although simple courtesy prevents anyone from saying it, the St. Olaf Christmas Festival has traditionally been viewed by the masses as an “Ole Choir and friends” production. Indeed, the history behind the program supports this idea, and to be fair, the St. Olaf Choir is and has been nothing short of extraordinary throughout its existence. But in recent years the other four choirs (Chapel Choir, Cantorei, Manitou Singers and Viking Chorus) have stepped up and made their voices heard, and never more so than they did this year. The 95th annual performance was truly a festival of choirs, aided, of course, by the ever-spectacular St. Olaf Orchestra, whose own solo pieces were equally enjoyable.

The program began with the orchestra’'s "“Lo, How a Rose E’'er Blooming,"” a soothing, melodic piece that settled the audience as well as the nerves of the first-year choirs, who had not realized just how full a “full house” was. After the final notes (and a flurry of coughing), the choirs sang "“God So Loved the World,"” presenting the text of John 3:16-17, the source of this Festival’'s theme, “God So Loves the World.” The change of the verb tense was not a typo, but a conscious decision by the program'’s creators, who wanted to emphasize the Festival’'s theme of how God’'s love does not end, but is everlasting.

This piece was sung in the round, with the choirs encircling the audience on the floor. The following song, “"Climb to the Top of the Highest Mountain,"” was sung in the same manner, and utilized this positioning by passing the lines and verses of the song between individual choirs and sections, so that different parts of the song came from specific areas of the auditorium.

Although all of the songs were performed excellently, there were a few in particular that really stood out in my mind. I was completely absorbed by Cantorei’'s singing of "“Isaiah’'s Voice,”" and I loved how the Ole Choir'’s following song, “"A Spotless Rose,”" mirrored that text (though the song of theirs that really got me going was “"Go Where I Send Thee”").

The two first-year choirs were incredible. With musical selections ranging from Manitou’'s delicate handling of “"The Road Ahead"” to Viking'’s intensely-focused “"The Word Was God,”" it was an impressive performance by both groups.

Following Viking'’s energetic “"The Word Was God”" was Chapel Choir’'s “"Karin Boye’s Evening Prayer,"” a soft, restful piece which suddenly slowed things down, completely changing the mood in the room.

As for mass-choir pieces, “"Betelehemu”" and “"Go Tell It On the Mountain”" tied for my favorite song. They were both a ton of fun, and they both almost caused the audience to ignore the request to hold applause until the end of the performance. “"Betelehemu"” was a rousing Nigerian carol with percussion accompaniment that got the choirs swaying in the stands. “"Go Tell It"” had an amazing orchestral accompaniment that ended in a high-energy swing version of the refrain, which, paired with a couple hundred students belting out the song, was probably the loudest part of the entire program for all four performances.

Finally, as it always does, Sunday’'s show came to an end with the incredibly moving piece “"Beautiful Savior,”" which was followed closely by the tears of certain singers and audience members alike. Seniors wept knowing that this was their last Christmas Fest, and a few alumni’'s eyes grew moist as they recalled their own time spent on the rickety risers.

“"I thought I’'d be fine until I started crying in the piece before we ever processed onto the stage,”" Meredith Sorenson '‘07 said.

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