St. Olaf Choir Director Anton Armstrong set up the contract through producer Malcom Bruno. Armstrong and Bruno became acquainted through other music organizations. Bruno is associated with Lynn Records, a well-known record company in Europe. Several directors around the country recommended St. Olaf Choir to Lynn Records.
Armstrong and Bruno chose Ives pieces for their originality and style. In fact, they picked some of his more atypical pieces, described by Armstrong as "avant-garde and neo-romantic."
Armstrong said that the chosen Ives selection reflects the compositional influence of Horatio Parker, one of Ives college music professors. "Horatio Parker was one of the leading, most recognized American composers of the late nineteenth century," said Armstrong.
Several St. Olaf Choir members commented on Ives work. "Stylistically, he was years ahead of his contemporaries," said Elizabeth Swanson 02.
Ian Walker 04 commented that it was "interesting, [fun to read], a good challenge."
Although the end result was rewarding and enjoyable, the choir dedicated many long rehearsals to prepare for the recording session. "I believe that we had about a month to learn the music as an ensemble so we had to pace ourselves well," Swanson said.
The choir was eventually accompanied by a Twin Cities-based professional orchestra, as well as instrumentalists, including several St. Olaf faculty members. This helped the singers to fully grasp the complicated music. "Once everything came together with the orchestra and soloists, most of us found a place for Ives in our hearts. With time, the method to Ives maddness gained much clarity," Swanson said.
In addition, the recording featured some soloists. Among them was mezzo soloist Martha Hart from Lamona, Iowa, an old acquaintance of Armstrong.
Once preparation was complete, the choir attended two rigorous recording sessions, leaving St. Olaf around 3:15p.m. and not returning until 11 p.m. Swanson remembered that "the choir had to listen intently and strive for perfection in pitch, rhythm, and musical expression."
Despite numerous and tedious takes of small sections, the choir members felt that they gained a lot from the experience.
Swanson felt that the hard work was well worth it. "It felt extremely rewarding to be a part of something that inspired us to such high standards. Our sense of musicality as an ensemble grew over time-and I believe that we went far beyond getting the right notes and rhythms," Swanson said.
This is not the first recording contract that St. Olaf Choir has had. Aside from the St. Olaf-produced Vanity recordings, the choir worked with Wyndham Hill in the early 1990s. Also, under former director, Olaf C. Christiansen, the choir commemorated its fiftieth anniversary in the 1960s by recording with Mercury Records.
Armstrong hopes that the recording will be found in major stores around the country. Currently they have a "good showing in Borders Bookstore and Barnes & Noble," Armstrong said.
The recording should be released in early 2003. Armstrong hopes that it will be available before St. Olaf Choirs next tour.