A Step into History


The cemetery wall at Snåsa Church.


The choir stepped back into Ole history with a visit to the lovely village of Snåsa — the birthplace and childhood home of one of the founders of St. Olaf, Bernt Julius Muus.

The St.Olaf choir singing in Snåsa Church Friday.

The St.Olaf choir singing in Snåsa Church Friday.




See additional images from the choir’s trip to Snåsa on the choir’s Facebook page.


By Michael Kyle ’85


A skyline view of Arendal

Arendal is a coastal area of numerous idyllic small towns and villages. It is a popular summer destination spot for Norwegians and Europeans.

The inland areas are a short distance from the sea, and the woods and the moors are not densely populated. It is the largest town in the region and has been a loading place for timber since the 15th century.

Shipping, shipbuilding, lumber, mining, and iron were important branches of industry for many centuries. Frequent contact with the world abroad has put a variety of marks on local culture and traditions. By 1880 Arendal was Norway’s biggest port in terms of tonnage handled.

Today the area has small boat manufacturing, mechanical, and electronics industries, as well as one of the world’s largest silicon carbide refining plants.

Michael Kyle ’85 is vice president for enrollment and college relations at St. Olaf.

From the Storting to the Ambassador’s Residence

By Michael Kyle ’85

Anton Armstrong '78 leads choir members in an impromptu performance in Oslo.

Anton Armstrong ’78 leads choir members in an impromptu performance in Oslo.

With jetlag settling in we started our first full day in Oslo with a visit to the Storting, or Norwegian parliament.  The Storting (in Norwegian: Stortinget) is the supreme legislature of Norway.  The unicameral parliament has 169 members, and is elected every four years based on party-list proportional representation in 19 plural member constituencies. The assembly is led by a presidium of a president and five vice presidents.

The Constitution of Norway established the parliament in 1814 and meets in the Parliament of Norway Building, designed by Emil Victor Langlet.  We enjoyed a tour of the building and met with a number of officials who provided insight, answered questions, and were particularly helpful orienting the students to the Norwegian system of government.

Visiting the U.S. ambassador's residence in Oslo.

Visiting the U.S. ambassador’s residence in Oslo.

A highlight from Wednesday was the reception at the U.S. ambassador to Norway’s residence in Oslo. The St. Olaf Choir was last at the ambassador’s residence in 1980, when Sidney Rand, president of St. Olaf from 1963-80, was ambassador. We enjoyed warm greetings from the embassy staff, had a chance to mingle with alumni living in Norway, and also to extend a formal welcome (complete with “Um! Yah! Yah!”) to Andreas Ensrud, a new incoming first-year student from Norway along with his parents and grandfather. The rain mostly held off and we were so grateful to be in such a wonderful house, filled with memories and memorabilia, with such kind and gracious people.

Michael Kyle ’85 is vice president for enrollment and college relations at St. Olaf.

Background and Timeline


Members of the St. Olaf Choir ply the waters of Geiranger Fjord during the ensemble’s first tour to Norway in 1913.

Fifty singers from a small college in the Midwestern United States boarded a steamer in 1913, bound for Norway and eager to bring their beautiful harmonies to the country their forebears once had called home. Led by F. Melius Christiansen, a native of Larvik, the choir traveled to Stavanger, Trondheim, Lillehammer, and Kristiania.

The St. Olaf Choir returned to Norway on subsequent tours in 1930, 1955, 1980, 1993, and 2005. This year’s tour commemorates the 100th anniversary of the founding of the ensemble and of its inaugural Norwegian tour. Each of the tours has returned to many familiar venues — including churches, concert halls, and cathedrals in such locations as Trondheim, Bergen, and Oslo — to delight and dazzle audiences across the Scandinavian country.

All three of St. Olaf College’s premier music ensembles, including the St. Olaf Band, St. Olaf Choir, and St. Olaf Orchestra, have regularly toured Norway, beginning with the St. Olaf Band in 1906. But the connections between the college and Norway aren’t limited to music alone.

Bernt Julius Muus, a native of Snåsa, and a group of Norwegian Lutheran immigrants established the college in 1874 and St. Olaf continues to celebrate its Norwegian heritage nearly 140 years later.

Shared History

  • 1859: Snåsa native Bernt Julius Muus, founder of St. Olaf College, emigrates from Norway to America.
  • 1871: St. Olaf Choir founder F. Melius Christiansen is born in Berger, Norway, near Eidsvoll.
  • 1874: St. Olaf College is established by Norwegian Lutheran immigrants.
  • 1888: Christiansen boards a ship to America.
  • 1903: The college names Christiansen head of its music department.
  • 1905: Den norske studentersangforening visits St. Olaf College.
  • 1906: The St. Olaf Band brings its music — and American baseball — to Norway.
  • 1912: Under F. Melius Christiansen’s direction, the St. Olaf Choir is established.
  • 1913: The choir tours Norway for the first time.
  • 1923–1924: St. Olaf professor O. E. Rølvaag finishes I de dage and Riket grundlægges, later published in English as Giants in the Earth.
  • 1925: The Norwegian American Historical Association is established at St. Olaf College.
  • 1928: Arctic explorer and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Fridtjof Nansen visits St. Olaf.
  • 1930: The choir sings at Nidaros Cathedral to mark the 900th anniversary of King Olaf’s death.
  • 1939: More than 12,000 people gather to greet Crown Prince Olav V and Crown Princess Märtha in downtown Northfield. A special holiday broadcast of the choir is transmitted via shortwave radio from Minneapolis to Norway.
  • 1940: A holiday feast of Norwegian foods, including fløtegrøt, lutefisk, meatballs, and krumkaker, is served on campus — a tradition that remains today.
  • 1945: Einar Haugen ’28 is sent to Oslo as a cultural attaché of the U.S. government.
  • 1948: The University of Oslo’s International Summer School North American admissions office is established at St. Olaf College.
  • 1954: Norwegian Lutheran bishop Eivind Berggrav, famous for his opposition to the Nazi occupation of Norway, visits St. Olaf.
  • 1955: The choir tours Norway for the third time.
  • 1958: Students welcome Princess Astrid to the St. Olaf campus.
  • 1965: Crown Prince Harald visits St. Olaf.
  • 1966: The St. Olaf Orchestra spends January studying in Oslo.
  • 1968: King Olav V visits the campus for the second time.
  • 1975: King Olav V arrives at St. Olaf via helicopter for his third visit to the college.
  • 1978: The college awards an honorary degree to Crown Princess Sonja.
  • 1980: The choir performs at the Bergen International Festival. St. Olaf President Sidney Rand is named U.S. Ambassador to Norway. The recording Reflections of Norway is released.
  • 1992: The choir adds Pål På Haugen to its repertoire.
  • 1993: The choir is the only non-Norwegian group featured at the opening ceremonies of the Bergen International Festival, commemorating the 150th anniversary of Edvard Grieg’s birth.
  • 1995: King Harald V and Queen Sonja visit St. Olaf.
  • 2005: The St. Olaf Band, Choir, and Orchestra travel to Norway to celebrate the centennial of Norway’s peaceful dissolution from Sweden. The television special “A St. Olaf Christmas in Norway” is recorded at Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim, then broadcast in the United States and throughout Scandinavia. Crown Prince Haakon visits the St. Olaf campus.
  • 2011: King Harald V and Queen Sonja visit St. Olaf, where they mingle with students and attend a beginning Norwegian class.
  • 2013: The St. Olaf Choir embarks on its seventh tour of Norway, celebrating the 100th anniversary of their 1913 visit and the founding of the ensemble.

    Their Majesties King Harald V and Queen Sonja enjoy a visit to a Norwegian language classroom during the royal couple's U.S. tour in 2011.

    Their Majesties King Harald V and Queen Sonja enjoy a visit to a Norwegian language classroom at St. Olaf during the royal couple’s U.S. tour in 2011.