Courtesy of St. Olaf Choir

The renowned St. Olaf Choir is slated to perform in Battell Chapel on Thursday, Feb. 6.

The St. Olaf Choir is an a cappella choir based at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota. The choir is on a tour across the United States in celebration of the one hundredth anniversary of its first East Coast Tour, which took place in 1920.

During the choir’s first East Coast tour, their music was extolled by many publications. The Washington Post noted that the choir is a “select and precious group of choristers that can sing a gorgeous and absolutely focused unison that is alive and that has substance, shape and energy.”

“For many years, the St. Olaf Choir has been one of the finest collegiate choirs in the U.S. Their sound is remarkably elegant and refined,” said Director of the Yale Glee Club Jeffrey Douma. “Their conductor, Anton Armstrong, is a brilliant teacher as well as a wonderful musician and has a real gift for bringing out deeply personal music-making in his students.”

The choir was founded in 1912 by F. Melius Christiansen, a Norwegian violinist and choral conductor. In 1990, current director and choir alumnus Anton Armstrong took over as conductor. 2020 marks his thirtieth year conducting the choir.

The concert is divided into four sets with repertoire spanning from the 16th century to the 21st. The sets will be arranged thematically. The concert’s first set will feature songs about praise and rejoicing, while the second will be about adoration. The third set will feature songs about justice and compassion, and the fourth will be about love and hope.

“My intent is not to bring a choir and do this tour to entertain people,” Armstrong said. “Entertainment is just a slight byproduct. What is important is that people hear the messages of these songs.”

One piece featured in the program’s third set will be Alexander Gretchaninov’s “Our Father” — an innovative setting of the Lord’s Prayer. Armstrong chose to perform Gretchaninov’s piece in translation, because it sends the audience a message about the importance of caring for one’s neighbor. Often, “Our Father” is performed in the traditional Church Slavonic language rather than in translation.

The choir will also perform a piece by St. Olaf’s alumna Mari Esabel Valverde titled “When Thunder Comes.” The piece draws from a sonnet by the poet J. Patrick Lewis, which recognizes lesser-known civil rights activists like Sylvia Mendez and the Freedom Summer Soldiers.

“[Valverde] is trying to lift up voices who don’t have a voice today,” Armstrong said.

Valverde’s piece is for chorus, piano and percussion. Armstrong explained that for Valverde, the drums symbolize how individual voices can come together to drown out fear. “It’s meant to wake people up,” he said.

The Yale Glee Club sponsors performances throughout the academic year. After The St. Olaf Choir, the Glee Club will sponsor a concert on Mar. 23 featuring St. Salvator’s Chapel Choir from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.

“We hope to bring ensembles to campus that make beautiful music and have something unique to say,” Douma said. “We have hosted over a dozen international ensembles, representing countries from Mexico to South Africa to Sri Lanka, through our partnership with New Haven’s International Festival of Arts & Ideas in recent years.”

Battell Chapel is located on Old Campus.

Marisol Carty | marisol.carty@yale.edu