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St. Olaf celebrates centennial Christmas Festival with live, in-theater simulcast

At the century mark, St. Olaf College’s Christmas Festival still garners rave reviews

More than 500 St. Olaf students are involved in the 2011 Christmas Festival. Photo provided by St. Olaf College

For 100 years, the St. Olaf Christmas Festival has been a time-honored tradition. Each year, the two-hour program includes hymns, carols, choral works, and orchestral selections performed by more than 500 student musicians who make up five choirs, including the St. Olaf Choir and the St. Olaf Orchestra.
Anton Armstrong, professor of music at St. Olaf and the concert’s artistic director, praises the dedicated students who each year make the concert a reality, “The students are crucial to this incredible performance. They put in endless hours and show a great deal of dedication to this event every year.”
And, as a result of their dedication, audiences are annually treated to a production centered around the gift of Christ’s birth. While developing the concert each year, Armstrong, in his 22nd year at St. Olaf, says he keeps the audience in mind, noting that for many it is a worshipful experience.
“This is not about us [who create the concert],” Armstrong said. “This is about a gift to the college, and more broadly, to people of faith, that is Christ-centered.”
Each January, Armstrong begins work with his team in developing a concert for the next year that will be relevant to the needs of the audience for the current time. In preparing a concert to celebrate the centennial celebration of the St. Olaf Christmas Festival, Armstrong felt it was important to find a balance of tradition, while celebrating today’s world and looking toward the future. In seeking this, the theme became “Rejoice, Give Thanks, and Sing.”

St. Olaf Choir conductor Anton Armstrong

This marks the second time St. Olaf has done a simulcast of its concert.

“This is not a museum piece event,” he notes. “However, we are going to celebrate the history, not ignore it.”
Armstrong commented that in a time of year that is filled with great busyness, the hope for this year’s concert is to allow the audience to sit, reflect, and celebrate the message of God’s love and the gift of the Christ child. To provide this experience, the concert will feature music from several continents, while also playing homage to St. Olaf’s Scandinavian roots. Armstrong notes that along with traditional favorites and newer pieces, they will also debut a handful of commissioned compositions.

A live simulcast experience

In celebration of its centennial year, St. Olaf’s concert will present this year’s event as a one-day only, in-theater concert event on December 4. Those who attend the simulcast event will be able to participate in a full, unedited concert, broadcast live from the Skoglund Center Auditorium on the campus of St. Olaf College. Theaters around the Twin Cities metro area will broadcast the production.
This marks the second time St. Olaf has done a simulcast of its concert. According to Bob (B.J.) Johnson, manager of music organizations for St. Olaf, the 2007 simulcast debut was shown in 165 theaters nationwide. This year it will broaden its reach to be broadcast in 375 theaters nationwide. The performance will take place at 2:30 p.m. CST. A list of theaters airing the simulcast is available by visiting the simulcast website,
“Following our initial venture in 2007, we are thrilled to be able to simulcast live in movie theaters across the country the Sunday afternoon performance,” Armstrong said. “Together with our own recordings and DVDs of the Christmas Festival, the St. Olaf community is able to share this very special gift with people around the nation.”

St. Olaf Choir director Anton Armstrong begins the selection process for the Christmas Festival in January each year.

In addition to the live concert in Northfield and the in-theater simulcast, the concert can also be viewed on PBS stations across the country or heard on Minnesota Public Radio. While tickets for all performances are sold out, there is a waiting list available for the Thursday evening performance.
To learn more about the St. Olaf Christmas Festival, go to

Twin Cities area theaters hosting choir simulcast

Eagan 16*
2055 Cliff Road
Eden Prairie 18*
8251 Flying Cloud Drive
Eden Prairie
Brooklyn Center 20
6420 Camden Ave. North
The Showplace*
1625 West End Blvd
Saint Louis Park
Oakdale Cinema*
5677 Hadley Ave. North
St. Paul
Parkwood 18 Theatre*
1533 Frontage Road North
Waite Park
* These “Ole Theaters” will have active alumni or parent hosts. An associated event may occur after the concert at a nearby restaurant or gathering space.

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