The St. Olaf Choir, with 75 mixed voices, is the premier a cappella choir in the United States. For over a century, the choir has set a standard of choral excellence and remained at the forefront of choral artistry. Conducted since 1990 by Anton Armstrong, the St. Olaf Choir continues to develop the tradition that originated with its founder, F. Melius Christiansen.
Since its founding in 1912, the St. Olaf Choir has set a standard in the choral art, serving as a model for choirs of all levels. The ensemble’s annual tour brings its artistry and message to thousands of people across the nation and around the world. The St. Olaf Choir has taken 14 international tours and performed for capacity audiences in the major concert halls of Norway, France, South Korea, New Zealand, Australia, New York City, Washington, D.C., Chicago, Los Angeles, Dallas, and the Twin Cities.
In addition to being an artistic force, the St. Olaf Choir has a full calendar of events and a growing library of recordings. The choir’s mission is to provide music of the highest quality that lifts people’s hearts and spirits, incorporating a diversity of voices and cultural traditions into the chorus of the Christian faith. Many people experience this message through the annual St. Olaf Christmas Festival. But perhaps nowhere is the essence more clearly proclaimed than in the work that has become the choir’s signature piece, Beautiful Savior.
St. Olaf Choir Fact Sheet
- The St. Olaf Choir is internationally renowned for a unique combination of superior choral singing and the presentation of challenging choral programming with a vast repertoire that encompasses the entire history of Western music, from Renaissance polyphony to new music. The St. Olaf Choir transcended America’s limited early 20th century choral tradition with the introduction of a cappella singing of the highest level, creating a new model for the widespread choral growth that followed.
- The St. Olaf Choir is the premier choral ensemble of St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minn. St. Olaf College is a four-year, co-educational liberal arts college of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) with students from across the United States as well as from 30 other countries. St. Olaf College is recognized worldwide for the exceptional breadth and depth of its music program.
- St. Olaf Choir members are full-time undergraduate students. Their commitment to the choir involves rehearsing five days a week in addition to completing a full schedule of academic and musical studies.
- The St. Olaf Choir’s ever-expanding discography now features 27 discs following the 2011 release of Great Hymns of Faith Vol. III. Other recordings released in recent years include the first two volumes of Great Hymns of Faith,Charles Ives: The Celestial Country, My Soul’s Been Anchored in the Lord, The Spirituals of William L. Dawson, andAdvance Australia Fair. Select recordings are available through St. Olaf Records at www.stolafrecords.com.
- Extraordinary sales of the first volume of Great Hymns of Faith surpassed 270,000, and in honor of two past Memorial Days (2003 and 2004), St. Olaf College donated more than 4,000 copies of the first two Great Hymnsvolumes to the U.S. military for worship services among troops in Iraq and around the globe.
- In 2005 the St. Olaf Choir performed at the White House for President George W. Bush, First Lady Laura Bush, and guests to commemorate The National Day of Prayer.
- Armstrong and the St. Olaf Choir performed in the final concerts of the 2005 National Conference of the American Choral Directors Association (ACDA) in Los Angeles, which included singing at the Walt Disney Concert Hall, sharing the stage with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. The next day the ensemble flew across the country and sang in an acclaimed performance at New York City’s Carnegie Hall, the 10th time in its history that the St. Olaf Choir has appeared at the hall.
- The St. Olaf Choir has also performed at prestigious festivals around the world, including 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. The ensemble has performed at the American Choral Directors Association (ACDA) National Conference and, together with the St. Olaf Band and St. Olaf Orchestra, presented the highly lauded opening gala concert of the 59th Music Educators National Conference (MENC).
- Celebrating both the Centennial of Norway’s 100 years of independence from Sweden as well as 100 years of friendship and historical legacy between St. Olaf College and Norway, in 2005 the St. Olaf Choir joined the St. Olaf Orchestra and the St. Olaf Band on an unprecedented three-week tour of Norway. The ensembles performed jointly in Oslo, Bergen, Molde, and Trondheim, with each presenting additional concerts throughout the country. In December of that year a television special titled “A St. Olaf Christmas in Norway” was broadcast nationally on PBS and was released on DVD.
- The St. Olaf Choir is perhaps best known for its annual performances in the St. Olaf Christmas Festival, one of the oldest Christmas musical celebrations in the United States. Aired on national and international radio and television for more than 35 years, the St. Olaf Christmas Festival achieved another major milestone whenChristmas at St. Olaf: Where Peace and Love and Hope Abide was simulcast to more than 180 movie theaters across the nation on December 2, 2007. The PBS premiere of the one-hour highlights program produced by Twin Cities Public Television aired on Wednesday, December 19, 2007, and reached 2.5 million people, according to Nielsen Media Research.
- The 100th St. Olaf Christmas Festival Rejoice, Give Thanks, and Sing was simulcast to nearly 300 movie theaters across America on December 4, 2011, and included a new PBS highlights program that aired nationwide in December 2011.
- The St. Olaf Choir continues to attract capacity audiences at top venues around the country including Carnegie Hall, Philadelphia’s Verizon Hall, the Kennedy Center, Cleveland’s Severance Hall and the Orchestra Halls of both Chicago and Minneapolis.
- F. Melius Christiansen was the first of just four conductors that have led the St. Olaf Choir. He was succeeded by his son, Olaf Christiansen, in 1943; Kenneth Jennings in 1968; and current conductor Anton Armstrong in 1990.
- Dr. Joseph Shaw’s 1998 book, The St. Olaf Choir: A Narrative, chronicles the illustrious history of one of America’s most preeminent choral institutions.
- The St. Olaf Choir was honored with the 1999 Wittenberg Award for outstanding contributions to Lutheran church music.
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