St. Olaf Christmas Festival: Lutherans can sing


With the St. Olaf Christmas festival comes the yearly talk of beauty and birth. Since the festival centers around Jesus, that's fine and wonderful. But nowhere, not in a single publication on the festival, does it mention that their male vocalists can hit low notes so deep the sound vibrates your chair.

These guys are like Clarion sub-woofers. And it makes one hope that back in the day Martin Luther sang bass.

CP was lucky enough to score some floor seats to the sold-out show, held in Olaf's sports auditorium underneath basketball hoops. And while our tastes tend to mesh better with Girl Talk, the pure power and control of the various St. Olaf choirs blew our heads. CP wanted to whistle in between songs, but this being Northfield and all, we waited politely with the rest of the sweater-wearing audience to clap at the very end (ten-minute standing ovation).

Now, if you're not down with choral arts, Lutherans, or the magic of multiple part harmonies, stop reading this, and stop giving props to Fleet Foxes, and for that matter, quit making green Jell-O. But if deep down you share the notion that beauty can really flow from the lips of blond Scandinavians (hint: it can, and does, often.) then take a moment to listen below.

This stuff is unfathomably precise. And it's made the festival one of five notable holiday events on the globe, according to the Times. It's something the college likes to note in their promotional packets. And why not mention the props? This is tiny liberal arts college for farm kids in the Midwest whose parents don't have enough money to send them to Macalester, or so says one of their alumni. It pumps out something like the most religion degrees per capita in the entire nation. So when a person gets the chance to listen to St. Olaf's top vocalists sing in praise, on undoubtedly the religion's biggest holiday, to someone most of the campus actually believes in, the experience is, not to use the word lightly, transcendent.

Then there is part where the audience gets to join in on the performance. The sweater donned crew, who wear their garments refreshingly without irony, stand with their programs in hand and sing. Most are gray-haired and walk with care, but when the group sings it's like Ponce de Leon slipped fountain water in their drinks as the octogenarians and septuagenarians pump out a sound comparable to anything coming at them from the stage. They still have absolute control of pitch. It's really a beautiful thing. And with each quarter note rise one can picture them traveling back in time to a point when, most likely, they were the ones singing to their grandparents.

All this makes the tradition at St. Olaf one of the great wonders of the upper Midwest. And if you still doubt their repertoire, listen below to how St. Olaf treats the song, Beautiful Savior. (Even with crappy sound, you can get the idea.)

Their 2008 performance went down in early December. But don't worry:

PBS will air Christmas at St. Olaf: Where Peace and Love and Hope Abide, a one-hour presentation of the 2007 St. Olaf Christmas Festival, as part of its national holiday programming. Produced by Twin Cities Public Television (TPT), the program will run on December 24 at 9 p.m. and December 25 at 3 a.m. and 11 a.m.

A St. Olaf Christmas in Norway, an inspiring program featuring the renowned St. Olaf Choir with the Nidaros Cathedral Girls Choir and soloist Randi Stene in the magnificent Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim, Norway, will air on TPT on December 24 at 10 p.m. and December 25 at 4 a.m.

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