On Thursday, Nov. 17, in order to spread the news of this year’s St. Olaf College Christmas Festival, student members of each of the five departmental choirs as well as conductors Dr. Therese Hibbard, Mr. Mark Stover and Dr. Anton Armstrong traveled to the Southdale Center in Edina, MN for a “pop up performance.” This performance included three pieces from this year’s upcoming Christmas Festival, themed “Light Dawns, Hope Blooms.”
The musicians gathered in a central area of the mall, beginning their “pop up performance” with cellist, Sam Viguerie ’17 positioned at the base of the escalators. After a brief cello solo, Viguerie transitioned into the core melody of “Beautiful Savior,” a St. Olaf College hallmark. People shopping at the mall started to congregate near the upper balconies and edges of the central area to listen.
As he played the first round of the melody, members of the St. Olaf Choir descended the middle stairwell. A student soloist in the St. Olaf Choir sang a verse, during which Dr. Armstrong walked to a pre-positioned purple podium facing the stairwell and directed the Viking and Manitou choirs to assemble in a semi-circle around the St. Olaf Choir, and Chapel Choir and Cantorei on the edges of the upper level. They emerged from scattered locations near store fronts and passed by those who had stopped to watch the performance.
All five choirs joined together to sing the traditional portion of “Beautiful Savior,” which is performed annually at the end of each Christmas Festival performance.
Some members of the audience filmed and mouthed along the words with the song. Afterwards, the five choirs dispersed once more and members of the Manitou Choir, conducted by Dr. Therese Hibbard, performed a Scandinavian carol. The St Olaf Choir, conducted by Dr. Anton Armstrong, concluded the pop up performance with a separate Scandinavian carol. Both of the carols were taken from the Christmas Festival carol medley, a composition that shifts pieces year to year but whose framework is present in each Christmas Festival performance. The performance ended with loud applause from viewers.
“It was really special to share a snippet or preview of Christmas Festival with those who have never experienced it … or do not know the tradition of Christmas Festival at St. Olaf. Because I feel like Northfield knows the Christmas Festival tradition, and then there’s other places that are familiar with the Christmas Festival tradition but there are those who are completely unaware of the experience, so being able to spread the tradition to people who have never seen it…” Vanessa Lopez ’17, a member of the St Olaf Choir, reflected.
The goal behind the “pop up performance” was to find a fresh and surprising way of advertising the St. Olaf Christmas Festival. Coverage of this year’s Christmas Festival is unique in that the final performance will be available to stream online for a fee, in addition to the live performances in Skoglund. Minnesota Public Radio will also continue its audio coverage of the final performance. The “pop up performance” was planned between the St. Olaf marketing department, musical organizations department, Southdale Center, and other technical figures. Student performers were told to keep the upcoming performance a secret. When I asked friends who I knew were in the choirs if they could tell me anything about the plans for the performance, they all told me that they could not give me any information until after the performance on that Thursday. After the performance, I asked how long this had been a secret.
“A couple weeks. Because it had to seem spontaneous, it wasn’t allowed to be talked about extensively,” St. Olaf Choir member, Devon Steve ’17, explained.
The performance was streamed through Facebook Live, as well as filmed in parts and later uploaded to St. Olaf College social media platforms. Also among the audience were members of the Star Tribune. At press time, a video of the “Beautiful Savior” performance on the St. Olaf College main Facebook page had garnered over 608,000 views, 5,500 likes, and 734 comments.
“At first I felt it was going to be really cheesy, but it was kind of fun to be a part of this unorthodox way of advertising. Plus seeing how many thousands of views the video has and the increasing number of heartwarming comments on the video showed that people wanted to hear a loving message early on in the holiday season … Sometimes, the most silly things [to you] have a grand impact on those who are watching you,” Steve said.
Christmas Festival will take place Dec. 1 through 4 in Skoglund Athletic Center. Tickets are still available online.