St. Olaf College | News

New digital exhibit celebrates centennial of landmark St. Olaf Choir tour

A program advertising the St. Olaf Choir's 1920 tour.
A program advertising the St. Olaf Choir’s 1920 tour.

A new digital exhibit has been launched that highlights the 1920 St. Olaf Choir tour throughout the East Coast of the United States. The tour’s overwhelming success established the St. Olaf Choir as a model for choral singing and led to widespread choral growth across the nation. It was the first of the ensemble’s annual tours throughout the United States, a tradition that has been sustained for more than 100 years.

Curated by St. Olaf Associate Librarian for Ensembles and Performing Rights Courtney Kleftis, the exhibition provides a tantalizing glimpse into both published and manuscript materials documenting this exciting series of concerts in cities ranging from Chicago, Illinois, to Washington, D.C., that reached an estimated audience of 90,000 people. One item in the exhibition that is of particular note is the concert program commemorating the St. Olaf Choir’s premiere performance at the world-renowned Carnegie Hall in New York City in April 1920.

The exhibition also includes:

  • An interactive tour map highlighting tour’s route and performance venues 
  • Excerpts from St. Olaf Choir Founding Conductor F. Melius Christiansen’s own letters home to his wife and family while on tour
  • Pages of alumni scrapbooks capturing students’ memories from their personal experiences on tour
  • Various newspaper advertisements and reviews of concerts (most of which were extremely well-received by the general public)
  • A  restored audio recording from ca. 1927 of the St. Olaf Choir singing “Beautiful Savior” under the direction of Christiansen

This exhibition was originally scheduled to be launched on April 26, 2020, on the exact centennial of the 1920 Carnegie Hall performance, but various elements of the project were delayed due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.