After traveling for two weeks across the East Coast, the St. Olaf Choir returned to campus for a final home concert on Feb. 16. The tour celebrated the 100th anniversary of the choir’s first tour to the East Coast in 1920 and the 30th anniversary of Dr. Anton Armstrong’s ’78 directorship of the choir.
The concert triumphantly finished off the choir’s two week tour. Boe Chapel was packed with an eager audience, and some even stood in the back to hear the world-renowned ensemble in their two and a half hour performance.
Social justice was a predominant theme of the concert. The song “When Thunder Comes,” composed by Mari Esabel Valverde ’10 and set to the words of a poem by J. Patrick Lewis, celebrated American civil rights heroes. In a note in the program, the composer explained that “calling attention to our history’s systemic erasure of the stories of marginalized human beings in the United State, Lewis’s sonnet presents a powerful model for patriotism.”
Climate change and the environment was another important theme. Just before the choir performed the song “On Horizon’s Brim,” an ode to our beautiful and dangerously changing planet earth, Armstrong asked the audience, “What kind of steward have you been for God’s creation?” The music was composed by Ralph M. Johnson ’78, and the poem that provided the lyrics was written by Malcolm Gimse ’58.
Ann Ambach ’21, St. Olaf Choir member, and Jessica Folson ’21, violinist in the chamber orchestra, talked about their experiences traveling with the choir and relayed what it is like to be a full-time student and touring musician.
Touring can be a stressful endeavor. The musicians traveled for two weeks, missing several days of class at the beginning of spring semester. However, Ambach and Folson both agreed that the stress of missing class was worth touring the country performing music as an ensemble.
“It was a little stressful when classes started, but at the same time, I’m doing what I love to do,” Ambach said.
Both Ambach and Folson’s favorite performance was their concert at Carnegie Hall.
“My favorite concert was the Carnegie Hall concert because it was in my hometown, and it was just really great to be able to go home and show them what I’ve been working on,” Ambach said.
“My favorite was Carnegie as well,” Folson said. “This year I got to have fun on that stage. Last year when I played there with the orchestra I was super stressed, but this time I just had fun.”
The chamber musicians are not always a part of the choir, and they only had to perform in half of the concert, but both Ambach and Folson noted the strong bonds formed during the tour between the singers and the chamber musicians.
“You’re all spending so much time together, so you all bond even though we’re not in the same ensembles normally,” Ambach said.
Although the schedule was packed, with concerts almost every day, the students did have a little time for late night sugar runs.
“I got out of the concerts and rehearsals a lot faster because I wasn’t the main event,” Folson said. “The other collaborative musicians and I would get ice cream or cookies, and that was really fun.”
“We had a free night in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and we did a junior night and went to Ben and Jerry’s,” Ambach said. “That was probably my favorite thing, just being in this tiny little ice cream shop with all the juniors and bonding a little bit more.”
Ice cream runs highlighted the trip, but sickness also permeated the tour. Worries about the lack of a nurse on tour abounded, but both Ambach and Folson said that the fact that a nurse was not present did not make a significant difference to their experience on tour.
Overall, both Folson and Ambach agreed that the tour was “amazing,” and the Choir’s impressive, socially conscious repertoire was executed to perfection at the home concert on Sunday.