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Arts Rancho Santa Fe

St. Olaf Choir to appear at RSF church

RANCHO SANTA FE — The acclaimed St. Olaf Choir is kicking off its winter national tour with a performance on Feb. 10 at the Village Community Presbyterian Church in Rancho Santa Fe. For more than a century strong, the St. Olaf Choir has been considered one of the most regarded of its kind in the nation.

Conductor Professor Anton Armstrong has held his position for the past 28 years while also teaching at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota.    

The St. Olaf Choir is one of eight ensembles at the college and is its flagship.

“The St. Olaf Choir was founded in 1912 and is considered to be one of the pioneering choirs of the a cappella choral music movement in the United States,” Armstrong said. “The choir really made its trademark in that it was before the days where you had professional music organizations and special professional music educational organizations like the American Choral Directors Association or the National Association for Music Education.”

Armstrong explained it was through the tours of the St. Olaf Choir that many people have become acquainted with some of the great choral literature. The choir helped shape choral music throughout the 20th century and onward.

The St. Olaf Choir began touring a year after its inception in 1912. Armstrong said a year after it was established, the founding conductor, F. Melius Christiansen, took the choir students back to Norway where many formerly lived.   

“St. Olaf College was founded by a Norwegian immigrant in 1874,” he said. “He bit off a lot when he decided to take a young fledgling ensemble back to the home country, but it was a highly successful tour, and they continued to grow regionally.” 

The early leaders of the choir and college agreed that this musical ensemble had something very distinctive to say not only in the small region of Minnesota and upper Midwest. The St. Olaf Choir then took its message to the East Coast in the 1920s, which put it on the musical map. Since that time, the St. Olaf Choir has toured both nationally and internationally.

The St. Olaf Choir last visited the West Coast in 2013. And it’s been more than a decade since they sang in the San Diego area.

According to Armstrong, the concerts last about two hours with an intermission.

“We are a liberal arts college with an association with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, so the choir has had a history of performing great choral music from all centuries,” he said. “And that doesn’t change with this concert.”

Musical influence ranges from 17th to 18th century, but Armstrong said that the majority of this concert will actually come from the 20th and 21 centuries.

“We’ve got an eclectic program in music,” Armstrong said. “We’re singing in something like five different languages and music from different cultures and traditions.” He added that members of the choir are seasoned and not first-year students.

As a conductor, Armstrong said his mission is to pick music of the highest quality but he also chooses a concert program without being too didactic in what the choir wants to say.

“We want to bring a message of beauty, a message of hope and a message of compassion,” he said. “I think this program very much does that.”

To purchase tickets for the St. Olaf Choir tour, call (800) 363-5487 or visit

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