The annual Chapel Choir concert: finding beauty in the uniqueness of the world and its offerings

Lucy Woods - Chapel 1

The seats were packed in Boe Chapel on the evening of Tuesday Oct. 25, anticipating the St. Olaf Chapel Choir’s fall concert. At 7:30 pm, the singers emerged, lined themselves down the center row, and turned towards the audience to the beat of the percussion. Suddenly, they started talking to the audience. Then they approached the stage and performed their first song, “Sorida”, which is a Zimbabwean greeting. It was an awe-inspiring introduction to the rest of the performance. After that, the student-selected theme for the concert was introduced – embracing beauty outside ourselves. 

Following the energizing harmonies and drums of the second song, “Ariarang”, the choir descended from the stage and joined the audience. Then began the “Song Share” section of the concert. Tesfa Wondemagegnehu, the conductor of the Chapel Choir, started teaching the audience a simple song by repeating what he sang. Soon enough, the crowd was clapping along, singing louder, and up on their feet having a blast.

The overall message of the concert was established just before the “Song Share” when Wondemagegnehu told the audience: “The students wanted to make sure that everybody in this space tonight became a part of the ‘Cran-fam,’” which is what the choir members call themselves. 

After that, choir members came up to the stage and taught the audience songs from each students’ background. They shared insights into why their songs are special to their cultures. Two students shared a song they learned at a Norwegian summer camp where they met. Another student sang a song that was generationally passed down to them in a language that was banned in their home country. A third recited a song in a language without a script from their grandpa. The “Song Share” finished with Wondemagegnehu sharing a rousing final piece as the choir returned to the stage. 

Although the performance was incredible, one critique I have is the lack of accreditation for the choir members that contributed during the “Song Share.” In the program, the titles, lyrics, languages, and names of soloists and percussionists in the five pieces performed collectively are listed. These aspects were not included for those in the “Song Share.” Even though the performers shared some details verbally, the names of the performers and the titles of the songs were not explicitly announced. 

The last three songs, “I’ll Never Turn Back No Mo”, “Indodana”, and “Muié Rendêra”, exhibited themes of hope and persistence in the face of mental health, racial prosecution, and more. “So often we talk about music as this uniting force, but music is also a healing agent when we can allow ourselves to just let go and just look into each other’s eyes and say ‘Neighbor, I got you,’” Wondemagegnehu told the audience. 

“I hope when the story is written, that our students get more credit for being the gracious, kind, loving, beautiful souls that they are,” Wondemagegnehu said in an interview following the concert. “I really do hope that, you know, whatever story is told, our students in Chapel Choir get celebrated as, you know, my angels and my friends.” 

In addition to their appearance in the Christmas Festival in early December, the Chapel Choir will perform on April 23, 2023 in collaboration with the St. Olaf Orchestra.

Reagan Lehner
+ posts