St. Olaf Choir
|St. Olaf Choir|
|Origin||Northfield, Minnesota, U.S.|
|Founded||1912 (105 years ago)|
|Genre||a cappella, classical, gospel|
|Chief conductor||Anton Armstrong|
|Affiliation||Evangelical Lutheran Church in America|
The St. Olaf Choir is a premier a cappella choir based in Northfield, Minnesota. Founded in 1912 by Norwegian immigrant F. Melius Christiansen, the choir has been influential to other church and college choirs for its performance of unaccompanied sacred music. Conducted since 1990 by Anton Armstrong, there have been four conductors in the choir’s 105 year history.
Previously founding the St. Olaf Band, professor F. Melius Christiansen formed the St. Olaf Choir in 1912 from the worship choir of nearby St. John's Lutheran Church. After a successful tour of the American Midwest that same year, the choir began planning a tour of the college’s cultural homeland, Norway. This 1913 tour included performances in front of King Haakon VII and Queen Maud. In the 1920s, the St. Olaf Choir began touring regularly after a highly acclaimed tour of the East Coast. Subsequent tours, recordings, and radio broadcasts spread the group’s fame among the choral community, transforming the Midwest into a hotbed of choral activity.
In 1943, Olaf Christiansen succeeded his father as conductor of the St. Olaf Choir. Graduating from St. Olaf College in 1925 and singing in the choir under his father, Olaf had earned advanced degrees at Union Theological Seminary and taught at the Oberlin Conservatory. After 27 years as conductor, Olaf retired in 1968. .
The third conductor of the St. Olaf Choir was Kenneth Jennings, a 1950 graduate of St. Olaf College who sang in the choir under his predecessor. Under Jennings’ direction, the choir expanded its repertoire and began occasionally performing accompanied music and larger works. Jennings also expanded the choir’s global reach with a 1986 tour of Asia. In 1988, it became one of five choirs in the world to sing at the Olympic Choral Arts Festival in Seoul, South Korea.
In 1990, Anton Armstrong became the fourth conductor of the St. Olaf Choir. Graduating in 1978, Armstrong also sang in the choir under his predecessor. He was considered well suited for the position, having written his doctoral thesis on the legacy of the ensemble. Armstrong further broadened the choir’s performance repertoire by emphasizing worldly music, American spirituals, and occasional secular pieces.
The St. Olaf Choir is perhaps best known for its annual performances in the St. Olaf Christmas Festival, which airs annually on national and international radio and television. Furthermore, the choir is known for closing nearly every performance with its signature piece, Beautiful Savior. In 1998, the St. Olaf Choir was chronicled in a book by historian Joseph Shaw.
Since the 1920s, the St. Olaf Choir has performed on annual tours domestically throughout all regions of the United States. The choir has attracted capacity audiences at venues such as Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center, Severance Hall, the Kauffman Center, Meyerson Symphony Center, and the Orchestra Halls of Chicago and Minneapolis. Furthermore, travels internationally every four years, with previous performances in Scandinavia, Great Britain, France, Asia, New Zealand, and Australia.
In 2005 the St. Olaf Choir performed at the White House for President George W. Bush to commemorate The National Day of Prayer. That same year, the choir performed in the final concerts of the National Conference of the American Choral Directors Association at Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, only to sing the next day in an acclaimed performance at New York’s Carnegie Hall.  Internationally, the choir has performed at the Seoul Olympic Arts Festival, the Strasbourg and Bergen Music Festivals, and the closing concert of the Sixth World Symposium on Choral Music in Minneapolis.
In 2007, the choir appeared in a live simulcast of the St. Olaf Christmas Festival, which showed on more than 180 movie theatres across the nation and reach 2.5 million viewers on a later PBS broadcast. In December 2011, the 100th St. Olaf Christmas Festival was simulcast to nearly 300 movie theatres. In 2013, the choir appeared in a television special titled “Christmas in Norway with the St. Olaf Choir,” filmed at the Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim, Norway. The special won 2 regional Emmy Awards in 2014.
The St. Olaf Choir has recorded 27 full-length albums, and has been included on numerous other recordings (such as yearly recordings of the St. Olaf Christmas Festival). Furthermore, the St. Olaf Choir can be heard in the 1972 western, The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid.
- A Choral Tapestry (1994)
- Advance Australia Fair (1998)
- At The Ordway Music Theatre (1985)
- Beautiful Savior (1985)
- Charles Ives: The Celestial Country (2002)
- Choral Masterworks Series Vol. I, II, III, and IV (1998, 2002, 2011, 2012)
- Christmas in Norway (2013)
- Great Hymns of Faith Vol. I, II, and III (1999, 2004, 2012)
- Hallelujah! We Sing Your Praises (1992)
- Harmony: American Songs of Faith (with the American Boychoir) (2007)
- Holy Oles: Highlights From A Prairie Home Companion (with the St. Olaf Orchestra and Garrison Keillor) (2001)
- Mozart Requiem/Sussmayer Requiem (with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra) (2005)
- My Soul’s Been Anchored in the Lord (2001)
- Norge Mitt Norge (2013)
- O Yule Full of Gladness (1993)
- Portrait of the Orient (1989)
- Reflections of Norway (1987)
- Repertoire for Mixed Voices, Vol. I and II (2007, 2009)
- Sing For Joy (1991)
- Spirituals of William Dawson (1997)
- Worthy to Be Praised (1997)
- Phillip Brunelle (2012-02-09). "St. Olaf Choir: Setting a century-long gold standard for choral singing". minnpost.com. Retrieved 2016-06-08.
- Fred G. Schmidt. "The Founding of the St. Olaf Lutheran Choir Tours of 1912 and 1913". Shaw-Olson Center for College History, St. Olaf College. Retrieved 2016-10-21.
- "Olaf C. Christiansen". ACDA of MN. Retrieved 2016-10-21.
- "About The St. Olaf Choir". St. Olaf College. Retrieved 2016-10-21.
- Anne Midget (2005-02-10). "A Midwestern Choral Group to Whom Words Matter". The New York Times. Retrieved 2016-10-21.
- "St. Olaf Choir gives extra lift to Nike ad". St. Olaf College. 2007-03-01. Retrieved 2017-01-04.
- "The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid". IMDB. Retrieved 2016-10-21.