Through Our Lens: The St. Olaf Christmas Festival
Each year, thousands of people gather to watch the St. Olaf Christmas Festival in person. And each year, many thousands more get glimpses of the beauty and musical magic of the event through the images that are captured by St. Olaf photographers and shared with audiences around the world.
This year’s St. Olaf Christmas Festival, Promise of Peace, was no different. What was different was the venue. For the first time, the St. Olaf Christmas Festival was held at Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis. Led by five conductors, the more than 500 St. Olaf student musicians who are members of the college’s world-renowned choirs and orchestra delivered a spectacular performance.
St. Olaf photographers Steven Garcia ’20 and Enrico Tamayo ’25 were there to capture it all. Garcia is a professional photographer whose work has been featured in publications that include the Star Tribune and the Wall Street Journal. Tamayo is a St. Olaf sophomore whose love for photography led him to a role as a photographer in the college’s Marketing and Communications Office — the very same role that Garcia had just a few years ago.
Below they each share their reflections on capturing the St. Olaf Christmas Festival at Orchestra Hall — from the advantages (and challenges!) of working in the new space to their favorite photographs.
THE LENS OF STEVEN GARCIA ’20
As a professional photographer who also happens to be a professional musician, I’ve been fortunate to be able to combine my two biggest passions to document performances like the St. Olaf Christmas Festival. It was especially an honor to photograph a performance in Orchestra Hall, which has become something of a musical home for me since graduating from St. Olaf.
I’ve been lucky to perform as a musician at Orchestra Hall with St. Olaf ensembles — as a trumpet performance major, I was a member of both the St. Olaf Orchestra and St. Olaf Band — and more recently, as a musician with the Bloomington Symphony and as a substitute with the Minnesota Orchestra. Having been both an audience member and performer at the venue, I have a lot of inside baseball knowledge coming into the space as a photographer. This knowledge of the backstage setup and all the different ways to move around the hall, as well as which musicians to focus my camera lens on, all came in handy to create the images I captured.
As a professional photographer who also happens to be a professional musician, I’ve been fortunate to be able to combine my two biggest passions to document performances like the St. Olaf Christmas Festival. It was especially an honor to photograph a performance in Orchestra Hall, which has become something of a musical home for me since graduating from St. Olaf.Steven Garcia ’20
Orchestra Hall presents some unique photography challenges space-wise on stage with such a large number of performers. It also has some advantages, including the three different tiers of seating that provide unique photography angles high up — something not possible in Skoglund Center. One of my favorite images that I captured at this year’s Christmas Festival is a wide angle from up high showing the full breadth of the space and the size of the ensemble on stage. The size of the full combination of choirs and the orchestra is so large and unique that stage extensions are needed to accommodate it. Such a large group of musicians is usually reserved for works like Mahler’s choral symphonies, or the Requiems of Verdi and Berlioz.
I also love photographing each of the fantastic conductors in action and capturing their emotions and gestures — including the smiles, reactions, and playful winks that audience members usually cannot see from the seats — as they conduct both their respective ensembles and the audience in the sing-a-longs.
While my job is to make sure that I capture certain photographs from a “shot list” so that we ensure we’ve highlighted all aspects of the performance, I also love being able to exercise my creativity. I strive for unique images that create perspective on the entire scope of the production of the Christmas Festival, and images that document this special performance in a new space. Below are a few of my favorite images from the 2022 Christmas Festival. These include photos of conductors in action, musicians, the broadcast control room, and photos of the full ensemble showing the size of the group.
Steven Garcia ’20 is a professional photographer, musician, multimedia artist, and media producer based in Minneapolis. Learn more about his work at stevengphoto.com.
THE LENS OF ENRICO TAMAYO ’25
As members of the St. Olaf Orchestra took their place on stage and I heard the tuning of their instruments begin alongside the crescendo of the choirs warming up, I started to feel my nerves heighten. Sitting in the front row of Orchestra Hall with my camera in hand, I told myself, “This is it. You asked to be here — now you gotta show them.”
Having been given the opportunity to photograph the St. Olaf Christmas Festival alongside professional photographer Steven Garcia ’20 was both exciting and humbling. But as I walked into the performance hall, the thrill and excitement of the moment died down, and the “work” part began to hit me. I felt nervous. One of the first things I noticed about Orchestra Hall was that the space was a lot darker than I thought it was going to be, which is a photographer’s nightmare. This, coupled with the fact that I had never photographed an event like this before, led me to wonder “Why did I ask to do this again?”
And yet, as I sat in that front row, I realized what a great opportunity it was to be there. I had come so far, and now I had the chance to really challenge myself as a photographer. My passion for photography started in my teens in Hong Kong. I loved exploring various parts of the city, and photography gave me an outlet to express myself as an artist while still being able to interact with the world around me. Thinking about how far that talent and passion has brought me helped me remember why I was sitting there in Orchestra Hall.
My passion for photography started in my teens in Hong Kong. I loved exploring various parts of the city, and photography gave me an outlet to express myself as an artist while still being able to interact with the world around me. Thinking about how far that talent and passion has brought me helped me remember why I was sitting there in Orchestra Hall.Enrico Tamayo ’25
Once my nerves settled, I got to work — and as I captured photographs of this beloved Christmas Festival and the people at the center of it, I remembered exactly why I asked for this assignment and why I love this work. I think the photograph with St. Olaf Cantorei Conductor James Bobb best captures my feelings for the evening. If you look at the photo below, I would invite you to notice two things with me.
First, all eyes are on him. The energy of every single person in that hall — the student musicians in the choirs and the orchestra, the conductors, the stage managers, and the photographers like myself — was completely focused on doing our best work as individuals, and, in doing so, enabling the larger performance to come together and be the best possible.
Second, what I love about this photo is that it’s not perfect. From a technical standpoint, it’s even kind of bad. I’d be lying if I said I really liked this photo. When I first saw it when I uploaded the photos onto my computer the next morning, I realized how many of the photos had weird lines in the background, mixing blue and red. This wasn’t some kind of odd futuristic background projected in Orchestra Hall — it was me shooting with the wrong shutter speeds that captured those lines.
At first I was quite mad that a lot of the photos had those lines. But after reflecting, I began to love the photo. It shows that I’m still learning as a photographer and that my work needs improvement. That is exactly why I reached out to my supervisor and asked for this assignment in the first place — I wanted to challenge myself, stretch my skills, and make those mistakes (hopefully not huge ones) in an environment where I can learn.
Looking back, a lot of what I’ve been learning at college is just that — that growth comes from going to those places outside of our comfort zones, making those mistakes, and learning from them to be able to rise up to the task with confidence, knowing that the outcome will still be another learning opportunity.
Enrico Tamayo ’25 is a sophomore majoring in psychology.