Living a life filled with music
Do members of the National Lutheran Choir have real lives? It appears so.
Day in and day out, Linda Armstrong’s life is filled with music. In return, the music fulfills her spirit. During a typical week, Armstrong can be found teaching junior high music classes, conducting four church choirs, playing the organ in worship, and, amidst all this, performing with the National Lutheran Choir (NLC).
Her passion for music, which began at an early age, led Armstrong to Augsburg College, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in music education. Now 33 years after completing her college degree, Armstrong can be found weekday mornings teaching eighth- and ninth-grade music classes and serving as a junior high choir director.
However, use of her degree in music education does not end when she walks through the doors of the school. In the afternoon and into the evening, she serves as music director at St. Philip the Deacon Lutheran Church (ELCA), Plymouth, Minnesota. As music director, Armstrong is the congregation’s organist and directs four choirs (a preschool choir, Kindergarten-2nd-grade choir, 3rd-5th-grade choir, a junior/senior high choir, and the adult choir). The youth choirs range between 25 and 36 students each and the adult choir has 60 members.
While Armstrong spends her days teaching music classes and directing choirs, being part of the National Lutheran Choir gives her the opportunity to focus on being a performer.
And if it seems that she does not have enough to do, Armstrong also regularly teaches piano lessons and occasionally plays for weddings. All this means that she often works six to seven days a week, including conducting evening choir practices three nights a week.
“I work way too much, but I don’t feel like it because it’s too rewarding,” she says.
A day in the life …
In fact, music is such a rewarding part of her life that when Armstrong leaves work each Tuesday, she heads to a three-hour rehearsal with the National Lutheran Choir, which she joined four years ago. Having directed choirs ever since college, she says “it is good to be on the ground floor in a group.”
While Armstrong spends her days teaching music classes and directing choirs, being a part of the National Lutheran Choir gives her the opportunity to focus on being a performer.
“It’s an incredible experience. As a conductor myself, it is a master class to go and watch [NLC music director] David Cherwien,” she says.
“I know I’m a better choir director at church [because of being in the NLC]. I bring back new exercises I’ve learned. It stretches [my choir’s] vocal horizons, too,” she says. Armstrong also notes that, as an NLC member, she has found new literature to pass on to her church choirs.
“[The National Lutheran Choir] is a chance for [directors] to come in and do something that is challenging,” Cherwien says. “For her as a trained musician, it gives her a chance to see what it is like for people in her church as well.”
The benefit Armstrong gets from the choir parallels the benefit it receives from having her there. Cherwien says Armstrong’s strong musical background allows her to “fit many bills.” According to Cherwien, “She came out of a Lutheran college choir. She’s also a practicing church musician. The NLC has very close ties to the church. We’re on that fine line of being a performance choir, but also have close church ties that we hold up unabashedly.” He says, “What we are able to do with NLC when we get people like Linda is lift up some high, high polished art.”
A multi-talented musician, Armstrong has had the opportunity to both conduct and play organ for the NLC, including playing organ once for their annual All Saints Concert. “It is an honor to be asked to do these things, as well,” she says.
While Armstrong and some of the other NLC members have careers in church music, their vocations are quite varied, including ministers, bankers, business people, medical personnel, and nonprofit workers. While most have not pursued careers as musicians, the majority of them at one time performed in college choirs.
Perhaps the most special aspect of participation in the NLC is the deep friendships among the members. While the 60-member choir ranges in age from recent college grads to those in their 60s, Armstrong says that age has no meaning. They all are friends, and the friendships within the group improves the quality of their performances.
“We deliver the message well because we all care about each other,” Armstrong says.
The National Lutheran Choir as family
NLC member Mark Yuker, who has been with the choir since its beginning in 1986, echoes Armstrong’s sentiment. “When you join the NLC, you also get another family. We support each other through the ups and downs. The family thing actually does apply. It’s not just a cliché. We actually are there for each other and do for the other person.”
Not only are the choir members close, they have a close group of followers, as well, says Debby Harrer, general manager for NLC. “This organization is in some ways its own little community. It has a real sense of family. Our supporters are avid fans and have been for many years.”
Ultimately, the fans are what make the National Lutheran Choir such a valuable experience for its members who dedicate a great deal of their time and talent to the organization.
“We get to share this with a lot of other people. You never know who is going to be in attendance,” Yuker says. “It may be somebody who is moved by you. … Even if you have a small audience, it may be really important and matter to somebody.”
Armstrong says the most rewarding part of being in the choir is the final product. “To see the faces of the people we perform for and know we have touched them. … It’s not only the musical gift, but watching the people and knowing they are being touched. This choir has the message for the people.”
Members of the National Lutheran Choir are required to re-audition each year. For now, Armstrong plans to continue to audition indefinitely. “I could never give it up,” she says. “It feeds me personally in a way that none of my jobs can.”
The National Lutheran Choir performs between 20 and 30 times each year. A recording session for “hymns we love to sing” will be held on March 14, at 4:00 p.m., at St. Michael’s Lutheran Church (LCMS) in Bloomington, Minnesota. The public is invited to participate in congregational singing at this event.
A schedule of upcoming performances and more information about the choir can be found on its Web site at http://nlca.com.
Tags: Augsburg College, David Cherwien, Debby Harrer, Laura Kaslow, Linda Armstrong, Mark Yuker, National Lutheran Choir, NLC, St. Michael's Lutheran Church, St. Philip the Deacon Lutheran Church