It is something of a marvel that virtually within the lifetime
of an individual a college could grow from primitive pioneer beginnings,
with a constituency limited to a comparatively young immigrant group,
into a superior institution of learning, recognized and respected
by educational leaders throughout the nation. Particularly remarkable
is the fact that St. Olaf could excel in the field of music, and
that, beginning with a relatively simple musical form, it could
develop to such a degree of perfection as to command admiration
and highest praise of the severest critics and the most sophisticated
leaders in the world of music. The memoirs of Paul G. Schmidt tell
the story in engaging style and include many details never before
recorded in print.
From the earliest beginnings of St. Olaf College, music played
an important part in the shaping both of the cultural and of the
spiritual life of its constituency. Perhaps an appreciation of and
a love for the rich heritage of the great chorales has helped develop
a compulsion to spread the light of the gospel through the medium
of sacred music.
To a degree that is quite unusual the St. Olaf of today represents
the contribution of a number of outstanding personalities. This
book is written by one of those who played an important role in
its music development: Paul G. Schmidt. It was a rewarding combination
of circumstances that enabled President J. N. Kildahl within two
years to bring both him and F. Melius Christiansen, the man who
was to revolutionize choral singing to the faculty of St. Olaf College
in its important formative years.
"P.C.", as he was affectionately called, pioneered as the manager
of musical organizations. There were no precedents for this kind
of responsibility. But he had imagination and vision. And he had
courage. He seemed always able to meet sudden and well-nigh insurmountable
difficulties with quick decisions, sound judgment, and a kindly
dignity. The students loved him for all this, for his endearing
sense of humor, and for the understanding and support he gave "F.
The concert tour of the Band in 1908 was the first one to Norway
of any major musical organization in America, and this from a student
enrollment of 135! Professor Schmidt as tour manager was assisted
by Mr. Harry Randall of Minneapolis. And for the Choir tour to the
Scandinavian countries in 1913 Prof. J. Jörgen Thompson gave valuable
help as advance man abroad.
Because of his faith in the genius of the young director, Prof.
Schmidt, with the help of the New York impresario, Mr. M. H. Hanson,
dared to take an unheralded and unknown a cappella choir
from a small college in the middle west to sing before critics in
the large music centers of the east. In 1920 this was unheard of.
And to sing a program consisting entirely of sacred songs with nothing
light or popular "injected for relief" . . . this, the director
was told, could not be done. But his strong convictions in this
matter have held from that time to the present. The stirring Bach
motets, Blessing, Glory and Wisdom and Praise, or Jesus,
Priceless Treasure, and such numbers as Lindeman's Built
on a Rock, Mendelssohn's Savior of Sinners, as typical
examples, give expression to the religious fervor and dedication
of the singers and their leaders. Such programming (in 1920) was
truly unheard of. But the results were also unheard of:
From the dean of critics in a Chicago daily: "Their concert was
one of the rarest expositions of the superlative in choral singing."
(1920). From the New York Times (1923) : "Last night in
the Metropolitan Opera House a group of 60 young men and women from
the small towns and villages of the midwest put on immortality for
Glowing reviews, unanimous in their highest praise, with concert
halls packed to capacity, emphasized the judgment that this contribution
was something of very special worth that must be cherished and shared.
There followed other choir tours, an annual one becoming a part
of the routine schedule of the college, with an occasional one abroad,
Thus was inaugurated what grew to be a college tradition, as two
gifted persons working together as a team created experiences of
matchless enrichment for multitudes of people in all parts of the
Besides managing other musical organizations of the college, Prof.
Schmidt, head of the mathematics department, was also appointed
manager of all public functions --- a demanding task. In this capacity
he coordinated programs which brought to the campus great numbers
of people for such events as the Christmas Concert and the Spring
Music Festival. The history of the latter goes back to the early
decades of this century, when it was then called the Choral Union.
We recall seeing a line of "sleeping cars" on the side-track, near
the Milwaukee depot, which had brought the contingent from the Chicago
area to participate in this festival of music. (No cars, no motels
in those days) Dr. P. M. Glasoe, head of the chemistry department,
is remembered gratefully for his enthusiastic interest in this project.
Prof. Schmidt also worked out arrangements for the annual exchange
of concerts between the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra and the Choir
which has continued without interruption since the '20's.
The present St. Olaf Band under the vital leadership of its talented
director, Prof. Miles Johnson, commemorating the 60th anniversary
of the 1906 Norway Band Tour, made a distinguished concert tour
of Norway in the summer of 1966, with outstanding artistic success.
And in January, '67, another first was inaugurated, when
the St. Olaf Orchestra made a tour to Norway for Interim study,
under the able and gifted direction of its leader, Dr. Donald Berglund.
A valuable and inspiring study of the musical scene in Norway was
followed by a series of concerts, most enthusiastically received.
When the time came, as come it must, for the active work of Dr.
Christiansen and Prof. Schmidt to come to a close, a most unusual
circumstance presented itself in a "father-to-son" succession, with
Olaf C. Christiansen as director of the Choir, and Frederick A.
Schmidt as tour manager of the musical organizations. Well equipped
for these important tasks they were --- both by family background,
tradition, training and talent. Worthy successors, they held the
Under Frederick's management the Choir on its 1964 tour gave its
New York concert in the new Philharmonic Hall at Lincoln Center,
and are scheduled there again for '68. Also in the opening season
of the new Music Hall in Los Angeles they "sang to a sold-out house."
Dr. L. W. Boe said (in 1921):
"Student life at St. Olaf College is richer and deeper because of
the singing of the Choir, and we are more than ever conscious of
our spiritual ancestry and our common faith."
John K. Sherman -- (A History of the Arts
in Minnesota --- 1958):
"The St. Olaf influence . . . has had an overwhelming influence
in the region and in the country at large. The son, Olaf, has carried
on, with his own conscientious and cultivated musicianship, the
high ideals and technical skill his father instilled."
Winthrop Sargeant -- (The New Yorker
"The choir offered one of those comparatively infrequent opportunities
to hear music performed in true pitch and with immaculate intonation.
True pitch gives a glitter to the music in which it is used; a sort
of heavenly purity of intonation in contrast to the blurring often
heard in our concert halls. It appears in the work of very well-trained
a cappella groups, like this one. It also appears intermittently
in string-quartet playing, and in the playing of some symphony orchestra
when they are presided over by extremely scrupulous conductors,
like Toscanini and Pablo Casals. "
Herm Sittard -- (Minneapolis Star --
"Olaf Christiansen is not only a musician of impressive talents,
but a forceful personality who sees his music as a missionary effort."
Having been entrusted with a great spiritual heritage, may we carry
it forward with high devotion. May the heart of the campus be filled
with the spirit "singing and making melody to the Lord" --- the
It is my privilege and joy to commend to you this record of events
that has gone into the establishment of a great music tradition
at St. Olaf. --- Ella Hjertaas Roe