Tuesday, February 9, 2010

St. Olaf Review, Part 2

Last week's concert is still on my mind in many ways. I'm still humming the tunes and thinking about the concert. It's one sign of a superior performance, in my opinion, that it benefits from further reflection over time.

I think Dr. Armstrong summed up the mission of the St. Olaf Choir (and church music in general) when he talked about his decision not to become a minister. He said that the choir and his work as a musician do more to spread the Gospel message than any words he could preach. Their section titled "Global expressions of peace" was especially poignant in its expression of the universality of faith.

I know that the choir's movement annoys some people visually because it's unexpected. However, it's just the physical manifestation of their commitment to the music and the text. We'd never ask a solo performer to stand perfectly still; in fact, today we seem much to prefer that they dance! Does the choir move too much? I'll admit that they push the envelope, but I don't need them to stand perfectly still either.

Finally, the choir's precision always amazes me, while singing in five different languages and in styles that ranged from Bach and Tallis to Abbie Betinis, who was in my class at St. Olaf. They sang chorales and spirituals, chant and siren sound effects - an amazing level of variety and always with commitment and excellence.

Ultimately, the music was all about communication, as all the best music is.


  1. It has been said that nobody has ever left worship humming the sermon.

  2. Yes, but not many people leave talking about the music, and at least for myself, the sermon is the most likely part of the service to spark lunchtime conversation on Sunday afternoon.

  3. Actually, it seems that people are more likely to complain about either the sermon or the music than to use them as a basis for reflection later. Maybe that's one reason such a small percentage of people actually are willing to contribute to a service - they do not want to be subjected to the scrutiny.