The ensembles included Norseman Band, with Conductor Paul Niemisto; St. Olaf Philharmonia, with Conductor Steven Amundson; Manitou Singers with Director Sigrid Johnson and Viking Chorus, with Director Christopher Aspaas
For many, this concert is one of the best St. Olaf traditions of Homecoming Weekend, allowing students to show off the school's strong music program to their families. "The Homecoming concert is a great tradition because it gives the first-years a chance to get involved right away with school activities and is a good end to our first month here," said Matt Friedrichsen '11, a baritone in Viking Chorus.
For many of the performers, this was their first concert on the Hill because the Homecoming concert includes the Manitou Singers and Viking Chorus, both all-first-year groups.
Sara Nobbs '11 sings with the Manitou Singers and plays viola in Philharmonia. "Having a concert on family weekend when [my parents] are already visiting is really nice," Nobbs said. "I loved hearing what my parents thought of the pieces we've been working on."
The concert started with two pieces performed by the Philharmonia. The group has a new leader this year, Professor Steven Amundson. Amundson has conducted the St. Olaf Orchestra for over 20 years, and began conducting the Philharmonia just this year.
Next, both first-year choral groups performed. A highlight was "The Peace of Wild Things," a piece by Joan Szymko and performed by the Manitou Singers. A reading of the lyrics by conductor Sigrid Johnson preceded the performance. For Nobbs, the words were as moving as the music. "I loved the words in 'The Peace of Wild Things'," she said. "I think all the music was really amazing."
The concert concluded with Norseman Band's two pieces, culminating with a unique piece, "Ghost Train" by Eric Whitacre. Jonathon Nelson '09, a bass trombonist in Norseman, described the piece as a "fast-paced, adrenaline-packed thrill ride."
Not only did the pieces leave an impression on the audience, but the fact that four groups could prepare such an impressive display of musical talent in a mere month left the audience impressed. New members - and this year, even new conductors - mean that each group comes together for the very first time only weeks before the Homecoming & Family Weekend concert.
For Friedrichsen, this was a new experience: "We only had 11 rehearsals before the performance so it required more focus than I was used to before and more preparation outside of rehearsal time," he said. Nelson agreed that while it is difficult for the performers, "It must be really hard for the directors."
Impressive preparation and performance are nothing new for any St. Olaf music ensemble, and the Homecoming Concert offered yet more examples of the strength of these programs. "It's amazing to see the quality of music that the different groups put together in only a month's worth of rehearsals," Nobbs said. "[This concert] shows that St. Olaf has a depth to its program beyond the top performing ensembles," agreed Friedrichsen. Don't believe them? Come to the next performances and as Nelson said, "Just listen for yourselves."