St. Olaf College | News

Wall Street Journal features St. Olaf Choir Conductor

Anton Armstrong '78 conducts the massed choirs and St. Olaf Orchestra during the 2019 Christmas Festival.
Anton Armstrong ’78 conducts the massed choirs and St. Olaf Orchestra during the 2019 Christmas Festival.

A Wall Street Journal series on how the pandemic is affecting the lives of people across the country features St. Olaf Choir Conductor Anton Armstrong ’78, who shares how he’s navigating the Christmas season as a conductor and the ways the college has remained committed to making and sharing music this year.

Armstrong, the Harry R. and Thora H. Tosdal Professor of Music at St. Olaf, tells Wall Street Journal reporter Ellen Byron that this time of year, he’s typically leading 550 singers and orchestra members in four performances of the college’s renowned Christmas Festival, with about 3,000 people attending each one.

“Right now I’m missing it,” he tells the paper, noting that he has spent every Christmas season of his life — until this one — in a flurry of music rehearsals and performances as a singer or conductor. “For the last week I have felt like I should be someplace else.”

The article notes that “In place of this year’s festival, Dr. Armstrong helped create a digital collection of holiday music from previous years’ concerts, called ‘All Earth is Hopeful,’ which St. Olaf released on Dec. 6. Also released this month is new music recorded by this year’s choirs, a feat of careful coordination.”

Armstrong shares with readers that, despite the challenges, St. Olaf faculty members and students were determined not to give up on making music this semester. “Standing 9 feet apart and wearing masks, the 75-member St. Olaf Choir rehearsed all semester in small groups and then came together to record five pieces of music by Black, Latin American and Norwegian composers, chosen for their messages of racial justice and love,” the article notes.

“I’m hopeful that we can find a path back to finding common ground in this country,” Armstrong says in the article. “This season of the year usually brings about a sense of hope, a sense of peace and a sense of love.”

Read the full article, titled “‘Covid Can’t Steal Christmas’: Americans Reinvent Holiday Traditions During Coronavirus,” in the print and online edition of the Wall Street Journal.