St. Olaf Christmas Festival 2010 -- A Child, a son, the Prince of Peace

by Alison Young, Minnesota Public Radio
November 29, 2010

St. Paul, Minn. — It was nearly 100 years ago when a Norwegian immigrant named F. Melius Christiansen organized a Christmas program just for students and faculty at the school where he had only just been recruited -- St. Olaf College in Northfield.

His idea was to give everyone a chance to stop for just one evening in a busy and stressful season, and contemplate the wonder and awe of the Christmas story.

This "Christmas program" meant for just a few friends and family has grown over the years into a mammoth festival-concert of hymns, carols, choral works and orchestral selections that celebrate both the awaiting and the birth of Christ.

It is such a successful formula, it's been copied by college and university music programs everywhere, and has been listed as one of five significant global holiday events in The New York Times International Datebook.

"This has become more than just a concert. It's an experience for the students to open themselves up to the spiritual dimensions and how these texts can apply their lives."
- Anton Armstrong

A full third of St. Olaf College students play in the symphony orchestra or sing in one of five choirs creating a spiritual journey on the grandest scale -- amidst a sea of Norwegian sweaters.

And thanks to radio broadcasts, this festival has been heard by millions throughout the world.

It all begins in darkness and anticipation. The first notes are traditionally played by the orchestra, followed by nearly 600 singers surrounding the audience and singing.

Once they process and make their way to the risers, the singers begin an evening of shared singing with a solo highlight for each choir.

Their tone is a signature St. Olaf glow -- at one moment hushed and reverent, at another full of joy and awe.

The festival closes -- as it has for over nine decades -- with F. Melius Christiansen's arrangement of the Silesian Folk Tune "Beautiful Savior."

With that simple, touching melody, the festival ends. The audience can finally applaud -- and the Christmas season officially begins.


Listen to a broadcast of the St. Olaf Christmas Festival on Classical MPR this Thursday at 7:00.

For the first time, Classical MPR is thrilled to broadcast the St. Olaf Christmas festival in DTS Neural 5.1 Surround Sound.

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