Monday, December 02, 2013

"Lefse, lingonberries ... Scandinavian hymns" -- and the a cappella choral tradition in the upper Midwest

In article by Philip Bryant, poet and a professor of English at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter: "Where I grew up in Chicago, we had great Gospel choirs. But we didn't have the choral music tradition Minnesota does." St. Olaf - F. Melius Christiansen
I suspect the impulse to do these Christmas concerts grew out of an immigrant sense of homesickness. It was a longing for the sounds of the old country, and it became even more acute during this, the coldest, darkest part of the year.

I can see how that music resonated with Minnesota's immigrant souls. Just like lefse or lingonberries, those old Scandinavian hymns buoyed the sagging spirit. They gave people the strength to face the cold winter night. And for a moment, at least, the music kept their homesickness and isolation on these frozen prairies at bay.

I don't think I have a single drop of Scandinavian blood in me. But, still, I felt uplifted as I passed by our chapel that frigid night. In the dark of winter, it's hard for any soul, Swedish, Norwegian or otherwise, to resist these beautiful voices, singing hymns full of praise and light.

Philip Bryant. "On frozen northern campuses, tradition of choral music brings warmth." MPR News [Minnesota Public Radio]. Dec. 2, 2010.

Egregious pun in an article by Lawrence Cosentino when St. John's University choir of Collegeville, Minn., performed in Michigan: "Giant sequoias soak up Pacific Northwest mist. Buffalo bulk up on Great Plains grass. How did vast choral reefs form in the heart of Minnesota?"

By the 1950s, the state was already uvula-deep in the a cappella choral tradition that began with the St. Olaf’s choir, founded in 1912 by Norwegian violinist F. Melius Christiansen. The St. John's chorus was originally organized in 1948.

“A hundred years ago, it was pretty novel,” Theimer said. “Now you look around and see all 15 private colleges in Minnesota have phenomenal choral programs.”

St. Olaf’s graduates seeded the state with strong high school music programs, nourished by the strong vocal tradition of the Lutheran church.

Lawrence Cosentino. "Out of the Maw of Minnesota." CityPulse [Lansing, Mich.] March 9, 2011.

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