St. Olaf Choir Marks Fiftieth Year
THE ST. OLAF Choir, America's pioneer a cappella choir, is now in its fiftieth year. The golden anniversary year tour will include concerts in two of the cities in which the choir sang on its first tour in 1912.
Madison, Wis., and Chicago share the honor of hosting the choir in its fiftieth year. Since that first trip to these cities and Minneapolis and Eau Claire on a brief Easter tour, the St. Olaf Choir has earned accolades as the nation's most distinguished choir.
The 1962 tour includes 21 concerts in 13 states in the deep south and on the eastern seaboard.
Past and present, in this country and Europe, the choir has received the approval of critics and audiences alike. Its perfection and precision have set the high standards that brought choral singing to its pre-eminent position in American musical life.
Directing the choir in its 50th year is Dr. Olaf C. Christiansen, son of the founder, F. Melius Christiansen. Olaf succeeded his father in 1941 and since has not only maintained the rich choral tradition, but has added to it new lustre. He sang under his father while attending St. Olaf and directed the Oberlin Conservatory choir before returning to his alma mater where he has earned acclaim in the field of choral artistry and composition. He is in demand throughout the country as a director of vocal workshops and choral schools and his compositions and arrangements are a rich contribution to choral literature.
The nation has become familiar with the St. Olaf Choir through its annual tours which bring the choir before audiences of more than 50,000 listeners. International renown has been built by European tours in 1913, 1930 and 1955. A 1957 tour of Iceland brought a wonderfully positive response in a period of tense negotiations
Under the direction of F. Melius Christiansen, the choir, which had been the church choir for St. John's church in Northfield, adopted the name St. Olaf Choir for its first out-of-town trip. The 1912 Easter trip was followed that June by a tour of Northern Minnesota and North Dakota.
Seven of the twelve songs on the first program were sung in Norwegian, reflecting the Nordic background of the college and its students. Several songs by F. Melius Christiansen were sung, prophetic of his composing career during which he published more than 450 choral arrangements and compositions which helped spread the St. Olaf choral tradition to church, college and high school choirs.
In 1913 the first tour of Norway was held and the response was warm, motivated both by appreciation of the music and friendliness for an American group of Norwegian background.
The explosive entry of the St. Olaf Choir as a major factor in American musical life came in 1920 when the choir invaded the music centers of the East such as New York, Philadelphia, Rochester, Cleveland and others. The climax came before a packed house in New York. Critics were ecstatic in their praise of Christiansen and his students from what to New Yorkers was the wild and uncultured West.
To sing to an even wider audience, the choir is heard on radio and records. The St. Olaf Christmas Festival was heard on tape recordings on 56 radio stations in December.
Mercury Records issued in November the first of several record albums of the choir. Sales of the album have been so spectacularly successful that Mercury is rushing the second album to completion ahead of schedule. The choir will record selections for the new album in Chicago on Feb. 22. The records are available from record dealers or from St. Olaf.
Photo: "F. Melius Christiansen"
Photo: "Anna Odegaard and Mary Gulbrandsen"