Thursday, December 22, 2011

More music fun

Yeah, I know.  Most of you probably could not care less about my brush with music.  But these days, only the interaction with the wondrous gift that is music-making keeps me reasonably centered while I observe and write about the various disasters facing my civilization.  Unfortunately for me, subjects like the deindustrialization of USA involves victims I know, am related to, or live lives very much like mine.  So not surprisingly, I take this subject personally—perhaps even more than I should.

Adding to this problem is my hard-won awareness of the ever growing gap that exists between what is possible and what is being accomplished.  I have moments when I imagine a world with a financial system that instead of being devoted to fraud and ripping people off, was instead meeting with the Productive members of society saying, "You folks find the solutions to the problems threatening our very survival and we will provide you with the money you need to get the job done.  Don't worry about what something costs, just worry about finding an effective outcome."

You know, if we did THAT, I would stop being such a grump and shut up.

Anyway back to the tunes.  2012 marks the 100th anniversary of the founding of the St. Olaf Choir by a young Norwegian immigrant named F. Melius Christiansen.  The Norwegians have been extremely poor for most of their history and so he brought with him the tradition of a cappella singing—mostly because it was the least expensive music-making possible.  And because he was a Lutheran, he had a long tradition to draw on.  It also made him deadly serious about the quality of music he intended to make.  He was the sort of person who believed that music was only really fun if you did it well.

When I was a child, his superb singing group was spoken of in hushed tones.  My mother had once sung in some mass choir directed by F. Melius and had decided right then that this was how choral music should be done.  There were many in Minnesota and the surrounding states who obviously agreed with her.  By the time I came along, dozens of Minnesota high schools had choir directors who were graduates of St. Olaf.  I had one my senior year.

In 1943, F. Melius' oldest son Olaf took over the helm at the St. Olaf and was there until the 1968.  Here is the choir singing his "Light Everlasting" in a 2005 concert at Norway's Trondheim Cathedral.  The choir starting touring in its second year and has not let up since.

F. Melius had younger son Paul who in 1937 got a choral gig at another Lutheran College named Concordia in Moorhead Minnesota.  He was there for 50 years.  In many ways, the Concordia Choir would become a truer representation of F. Melius' sound than St. Olaf.  Here we see an example as they perform the F. Melius arrangement of Bach's great Advent Hymn, Wake Awake.

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