St. Olaf Choir and Orchestra return from tours

By Feb. 15, the members of the St. Olaf Orchestra and Choir had returned to St. Olaf College, a national tour completed per respective ensemble. Tired but grateful for their adventures, both groups held their final performances for their fans back on the Hill.

“Playing home concert in Skoglund is similar to any home game for a sports team,” said Christina Solensten ’16, St. Olaf Orchestra second violin. “It’s great to have the community support and see all the familiar faces. And after so many concerts, we’ve definitely matured in our interpretation of the repertoire.”

The St. Olaf Orchestra’s bus toured from the Twin Cities and Rochester, Minn., down to a concentration of six performances in Florida, one in Georgia and a finale at St. Olaf. They performed at high schools, college campuses and churches. Along the way, they collaborated with the Lassiter Chamber Orchestra in Marietta, Ga., and the Harrison School for the Arts Symphony Orchestra in Lakeland, Fla. However, a running favorite location was Naples, Fla.

“The audience was highly invested in our music-making, which inspired me to invest in them throughout the performance. The musicians developed a great camaraderie with the audience even though we never verbally spoke to one another. That’s the power of music,” said Solensten. Another second violin, Anja Pruim ’17, said: “The atmosphere of a concert is infinitely more energetic and moving when the audience is appreciative, and this audience was.”

The St. Olaf Choir traveled around the northeastern seaboard and upper Midwest, stopping in Carnegie Hall, Princeton University and Yale, to name a few of the venues. Like the orchestra, the choir performed in a mixture of colleges, churches and local schools.

In terms of orchestra repertoire, Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Scheherazade” was championed among several members of the ensemble as the favorite touring piece.

“Although all of the pieces are amazing in their own way… [Scheherazade] is a massive musical work that covers a huge range of emotions from playful to passionate. Rimsky-Korsokov uses the entire orchestra to tell an amazing set of stories. It’s like a music journey for 45 minutes; who wouldn’t want to hear that?” Pruim said.

The choir featured a four-part program of nearly 20 traditional and new songs, including two premiere performances: “With What Shall I Come,” composed by Rosephanye Powell and “Flight Song” by Kim Andre Arnesen, which were sent to Dr. Armstrong as Christmas and birthday presents. The choir also sang “Pilgrims’ Hymn” by Stephen Paulus as a tribute to Paulus’ memory, triggering an appreciative response from the mourning musical community, especially in the northeastern states. And the adventure of busing around America with a bunch of fellow musicians?

“Imagine finding a group of people who are all united in one musical goal, and yet are so diverse. Then put them all together: living, eating, practicing, playing and even breathing together. You get closer you than you thought possible, and you see each other at your best and your worst moments. Ultimately, it is an amazing bonding experience that brings the entire group closer, which fosters friendships that last a life time and an orchestra that works together,” Pruim said.

Sparrow said: “I was kind of dreading spending two weeks with the same 75 people, but it turns out I had an absolutely fantastic and made some really wonderful friends.”

Solensten said: “The Ole Orch community has arguably been my grounding point for life at St. Olaf. I can’t imagine my college experience without the people I have come to know and the music we have played together.”

At the end of it all, the Orchestra performed in Skoglund Auditorium on Valentine’s Day and the Choir in Boe Chapel two days later, rounding out successful tours with full audiences.

“The Ole Orchestra changes lives… it touches all of our audience members. Every night of tour there are audience members who make a point of telling us how moved, or amazed or awed they are by the performance. Of course, it was bittersweet to say goodbye to tour, especially Florida, but everything about the home concert is great. It is like coming home,” Pruim said.

Both the orchestra and choir concerts can be streamed at The St. Olaf Choir performance also includes an intermission interview with Sigrid Johnson, the conductor of Manitou Singers, about her personal journey with music and the Manitou Singers, ending on a final message for her successor: to cherish their time with the choir’s members and to learn to understand and care for them.