Anton Armstrong, Conductor
I want the power of music—that Spirit—to transform those who perform and those who will hear the message. For me, that is a very powerful reason for doing what we do.Anton Armstrong
The 2023 season is Anton Armstrong’s 33rd year with the St. Olaf Choir, marking him the longest tenured conductor in the ensemble’s storied history. Armstrong, who is the Tosdal Professor of Music and conductor of the St. Olaf Choir, has led the ensemble since 1990. Under his leadership and vision, the choir has remained a pacesetter in performing a varied program that remains committed to music of the sacred realm while welcoming new and multicultural perspectives from composers around the world.
“We present a program that is transformational to the listener,” Armstrong says. “We achieve a very distinctive presentation of musical literature that goes beyond entertainment to challenge the listener in body, mind, spirit, and voice.” He views music as a bridge to commonalities among people, regardless of language. “Music creates community for people — we have much more in common than divides us,” he says.
Armstrong sees his conducting as a way to live the values of St. Olaf College, particularly those of excellence, inclusion, and global citizenship. “The past 32 years wouldn’t have been possible without the strong support we’ve received from St. Olaf for our artistic vision,” he says. He also credits the choir’s continuity of leadership — having had only four conductors in its 110-year history — with laying the groundwork that has allowed him to “blow the door open” on the ensemble’s repertoire by incorporating more music from Africa, Latin America, Asia, and the Pacific Rim.
In addition to conducting the St. Olaf Choir and the Collegiate Chorale, Armstrong teaches conducting, choral pedagogy, and vocal performance courses. He is the artistic director of the St. Olaf Christmas Festival, an event featuring more than 500 student musicians. He is a graduate of St. Olaf College and the American Boychoir School and earned advanced degrees at the University of Illinois (MM) and Michigan State University (DMA). His honors include the 2006 Robert Frost Cherry Award for Great Teaching from Baylor University, and a Distinguished Alumni Award from Michigan State.
In June 2013, Armstrong received the Saltzman Award from the Oregon Bach Festival. The festival’s highest honor, this award is bestowed upon individuals who have provided exceptional levels of leadership to the organization. In 2014, the St. Olaf Choir and Armstrong received a regional Emmy® Award for the 2013 PBS television program Christmas in Norway with the St. Olaf Choir.
Anton Armstrong was named an Honorary Life Member of the National Collegiate Choral Organization in the fall of 2021. Honorary Life Members are recognized as members of the choral profession who have devoted their life to the enhancement and artistic growth of the choral art. The award recognizes those leaders in our profession who have mentored young conductors, inspired singers, supported music educators in the arts, and shared their talents and gifts in the United States and abroad.
Armstrong is committed to sharing the experience of making truly beautiful choral art with others, and his work has influenced thousands of singers. He leads choral workshops and festivals throughout the world and is a frequent guest conductor of choirs with singers ranging in age from young children to senior-aged choristers. He is the founding music director of the Oregon Bach Festival’s Stangeland Family Youth Choral Academy. In February 20222, he served as conductor of the Kansas SATB All State Choir. He is editor of the Anton Armstrong Multicultural Series of Earthsong Publications and co-editor of the St. Olaf Choral Series, two endeavors that bring new music to choirs worldwide. In June 2022, he will assume the position of Chair of the National Board of Chorus America.
Armstrong’s influence extends well beyond the United States. He has shared his choral knowledge and conducting prowess in locations from New Zealand to Israel and South America to Scandinavia and at such events as the World Symposium on Choral Music. Armstrong was the guest conductor of the Republic of Korea’s 2018 Jeju Island International Choir Festival and Symposium and a member of the Choral Jury for the first Tokyo International Choir Competition in Japan. Most recently, he conducted the Indonesia Youth Choir and was a member of the Choral Jury for the 8th Bali International Choir Festival in Bali, Indonesia. He also served as an adjudicator for the 2021 Busan International Choral Festival in Busan, South Korea.
These international experiences greatly shape the repertoire performed by the St. Olaf Choir, further expanding a world of music for the singers. “We are constantly examining repertoire from a global perspective, but the core of our being is still a proclamation of the Christian Gospel — a message of faith, love, and truth,” Armstrong says. “I want the power of music — that Spirit — to transform those who perform and those who will hear the message. For me, that is a very powerful reason for doing what we do.”
Press contact: Connor Smith
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