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ISSUE 121 VOL 12 PUBLISHED 2/29/2008

Ole Choir returns home

By Annie Ashby
Associate Editor

Friday, February 29, 2008

Audiences tend to think of virtuosity and mastery of music in the same way they would appreciate an extreme sport -- the faster, the louder, the better. But in their home concert on Sunday, Feb. 17, the St. Olaf Choir proved this theory wrong a thousand times over (about as many times as they sang "was the son").

While the choir astounded the audience with jazzy crowd-pleasers and spirituals, their impeccable talent was most revealed in the simpler, gentle songs.

Beginning with the faint sound of a pitch pipe, blown expertly by Alan Stout '08, the concert opened with a set featuring double choir pieces, the most dynamic being Johann Sebastian Bach's "Jauchzet dem Herrn, alle Welt." The choir notably became more animated during the Bach -- so engrossed in the song and each other that they sparkled with vitality.

The entire second set was tempered by elegance and grace. If I cried during concerts, it would have been then. As St. Olaf choir conductor Anton Armstrong himself said, "Every night, every song, you [St. Olaf Choir] bless my heart." My heart was fit to burst with blessedness.

During this emotional middle-section, when I was struggling with my lachrymal glands, one song shook me out of my fantastic daze and back into reality. This would be everyone's favorite piece to love-hate, Arvo Pärt's "Which was the son of&"

Could this Pärt guy really not think of any other lyrics to go along with his otherwise first-rate music than ancient genealogy? At least the piece shows off the St. Olaf Choir's astonishing memorizing capabilities. I mean, dumb people could not do it. These kids are smart.

Other mind-blowing highlights include&everything. The home concert tempted me to become a crazed St. Olaf Choir fan who calls them "God's Choir," stands for an ovation during every pause and gets their picture tattooed on my abdomen.

However, the only standing ovation was unjustly saved for the last, gospel-licious piece, "My Soul's Been Anchored in the Lord." Powerful, inspirational -- sure. But I move that the audience also show the choir such appreciation after they've been touched by an expression of deep emotion.

Next time, let's stand and cheer after Christiansen's "The Song of Peace" or Mendelssohn's "For God Commanded Angels To Watch Over You." These songs give you chills and inspire you to write poetry. These are the hidden gems of the St. Olaf Choir. Listening back over the concert, they got about 30 seconds of clap time, and that's about 600 seconds too little.

Choir member Lauren Vick '09 explained the difference between a crowd-pleaser and the choir's best work.

"The big bang spiritual songs are just loud, and audience is the most impressed, while the quiet and tender songs get overlooked," Vick said. "The simple-sounding, sweeter songs are actually very vocally complicated and a challenge to the singers. They're our favorites as a choir."

For an encore, The audience was treated to a rousing cover of Weiss and Thiele's "What a Wonderful World." Classic crowd-pleaser, but I have to say, I didn't mind. Step over Louie Armstrong, if you're not already dead, the St. Olaf Choir is (kind of) better.

As tradition also dictates, the home concert concluded with F. Melius Christiansen's "Beautiful Savior," which Armstrong touchingly dedicated to the memory of those lost during the shooting at Northern Illinois University. A tragically beautiful ending to the best day of my life.

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