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St. OIaf Choir Brings Sacred Chorale Music to Waco

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Courtesy of St. Olaf Choir
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Faith, service, ministry, and hope. These are the words the St. Olaf Choir has lived by for more than a century.  The chorale group will bring those elements to their performance at Baylor University this week. KWBU’s Stephanie Lee takes a closer look at what has kept the group running all these years.

Anton Armstrong, conductor of the 74-member St. Olaf Choir describes what it’s like to lead the group as a trust-level between him and the members. He says since the very beginning, the goal of the choir has been to keep church music alive in college settings.

“From its origin, St. Olaf College has always had a commitment to music," Armstrong says. "It took great vision for F. Melius Christiansen who was brought on in 1903 to develop the music department.  And in 1911 and 1912 as he was trying to serve church music in this region, he felt the young people here were forgetting their forebearers of hymns, and he wanted to make a change in that.”

The St. Olaf Choir has had only 4 conductors. Armstrong says conductors have been able to build on the legacy of those who’ve preceded them, working to open doors for its students and for listeners in general.

“Our music can be transformational, not only for the singers and the instrumentalists that collaborate with us, but for all those who will hear the message. I think the music we sing has a prophetic vision of what the world can be and should be," Armstrong says.

In 2006, Dr. Randall Bradley, director of the Church Music Program at Baylor, nominated Armstrong for the Robert Foster Cherry Award for Great Teaching – a reflection of the choir’s service-driven mission. As a result of receiving the award, Armstrong spent the spring of 2007 in residence at Baylor to teach and share his knowledge with others in WacoAlexandra Mooney, the choir’s Chaplin says her 3-years experience with the group has reinforced her calling to pursue a career in music.

“This is probably the only time I’ll get to sing in a community like this. Where I'm going to school with all these types of people, and we’re in this choir making excellent music with service at its heart," Mooney says. 

For some listeners, Chorale music provides an uplifting and spiritual renewal. When performing, community and unity are a key component of the group’s performance. During any given piece, the group holds hands – it’s a sign of their togetherness but also provides some utility.

“We can breathe together or if someone is going flat, we can raise their hand a little bit.”

Given Armstrong’s ties to Baylor, the decision to make Waco a stop on this 15-day tour was easy. 

“I’ve kept in contact with people in that community and knew it had a fine concert hall.  And it would be a community that would appreciate what the St. Olaf Choir would perform.  I was made to feel very welcome that semester, and every time I return, it feels like I’m going home to a distant relative.”

So, what can you expect to hear Thursday evening? The St. Olaf choir concert will feature sacred choral music and secular music.