Watch ‘Christmas in Norway with the St. Olaf Choir’ on PBS

PBS will air a one-hour Christmas special, Christmas in Norway with the St. Olaf Choir, as part of this year’s holiday programming. Produced by Twin Cities Public Television, this program was filmed in Norway’s Nidaros Cathedral. Joining the St. Olaf Choir and conductor Anton Armstrong ’78 is Nidarosdomens Jentekor, the resident girls choir from the cathedral.

The national air date is December 23 at 8 p.m. Check these PBS listings for telecast dates and times across the country — from Savannah to Sacramento.

In the Twin Cities, the program can be seen on tpt2 at the following times:

  • Sunday, December 22, 7 p.m.
  • Monday, December 23, 1 a.m.
  • Monday, December 23, 8 p.m.
  • Tuesday, December 24, 2 a.m.
  • Wednesday, December 25, 9 a.m.

Order CDs and DVDs of this program from the St. Olaf Bookstore and watch a trailer for the tour’s documentary film.

Tour documentary to premiere during Christmas Festival

In June the St. Olaf Choir embarked on a centennial tour that retraced part of the ensemble’s 1913 tour to Norway. This year the choir’s performances throughout Norway culminated in the filming of a new PBS Christmas program, Christmas in Norway with the St. Olaf Choirat Trondheim’s Nidaros Cathedral.

A 60-minute film, The 2013 St. Olaf Choir in Norway: The Documentary, takes viewers “on-the-road” with the choir. It will premiere on-campus during this year’s St. Olaf Christmas Festival, with two public showings in Tomson Hall 280:

  • Saturday, December 7, 4 p.m.
  • Sunday, December 8, 12:45 p.m.

Film highlights include a visit to the U.S. ambassador’s residence, performing for a royal audience member at the Oslo Konserthus, homestays in Snåsa (the birthplace of college founder Bernt Julius Muus), plus other cultural connections between St. Olaf College and Norway.

The documentary features a number of pieces performed on the tour, interviews with Conductor Anton Armstrong ’78 and students, spectacular footage of Norway, and a few surprises.

‘Welcome Home’

By Michael Kyle ’85

“Welcome home.”

I’ve heard that phrase dozens of times when showing my passport after traveling abroad.

And I heard it again at the end of last week, as the majority of Choir members returned from Trondheim in two waves (affectionately known as the “Icelandair Wave” and the “Delta Wave”). Still others stayed on for an additional sojourn: summer programs at European universities, travel with family, and travel with friends. But wherever we all ended up after concluding the 2013 Centennial Tour (including three days of rehearsal and taping for the December PBS Broadcast) we all knew it was over.

President Anderson speaks to the Choir

President Anderson speaking to the Choir in Trondheim.

There are things the energized but weary travelers will miss: Where are the ice machines? That’s the size of the roll-away? No laundry facilities … again? Salmon … again?

And there are things we already miss:

  • Expansive Norwegian breakfasts
  • Fun and engaging Norwegian bus drivers
  • Singing for a king (how many people get to do that?)
  • Spiritual experiences in performance venues ranging from the newest of the new (the concert hall in Stavanger) to the oldest of the old (Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim)
  • An expressive and heartfelt thanks to the choir from President Anderson
  • A moving rendition of Beautiful Savior at the grave site of Bernt Julius Muus, the college’s founder
  • Devotions that honored our hopes and aspirations and remembered and mourned those family members and friends no longer with us

Memories captured by cameras permeate Facebook and Twitter (or as the KLM flight attendants says — “Tahvitter”), and we’ll hold even more memories in our hearts.

‘So proud’

I am so proud of the St. Olaf Choir and its members’ ambassadorship as musicians, as Oles, and as Americans.

I am so proud of those who worked behind the scenes to pull this off. It is no easy feat to move 75 Choir members, a sometimes anxious conductor (sorry, Anton), and an equally nervous vice president (me) around a country some 4,000 miles away from campus.

Michael Kyle '85 and daughter Laura Kyle '13 outside of Nidaros Cathedral on Father's Day.

Michael Kyle ’85 and daughter Laura Kyle ’13 outside Nidaros Cathedral on Father’s Day.

I was on this tour as a college representative, but along the way I realized I was on this tour in many other roles, as well: as a father (proud dad of an Ole Choir member), as an alumnus (who loved the time we got to share with the Groupie Tour and the study travel group), as a friend (you meet all sorts of people and hear all sorts of stories when you travel with the St. Olaf Choir and its merry band of supporters).

But I also was an American in a country that values America for many reasons. I was an American in a country that sent many, many families to immigrate to the United States many years ago. I was an American in a country of people who are kind, generous, entrepreneurial, traditional, and spiritual.  And I was welcomed with care and compassion.

And when one Norwegian said “welcome home” to me before a concert, I realized just how important home and tradition are. It was the experience of a lifetime for which I will always be grateful.

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

‘That’s a Wrap!’

And so the tour comes to a close as the choir’s two flights arrive safely back in the States. Fittingly, the tour ends with a Norwegian news (NRK) story about the Twin Cities Public Television (TPT) production of A St. Olaf Christmas in Norway that just wrapped in Trondheim’s Nidaros cathedral.

Our favorite part of the video? TPT producer Catherine Allan talking about getting the local audience to show up wearing winter coats and Norwegian sweaters … in June.

Select the image below to see the Norwegian news (NRK) story.

Screen Shot 2013-06-20 at 9.59.53 PM


By Michael Kyle ‘85

The waterways of Trondheim. Photo credit: Siri Smithback '12

The waterways of Trondheim. Photo credit: Siri Smithback ’12

The early seven-hour bus ride to Trondheim would be the last significant trek for the choir and staff during the Centennial Tour to Norway. Many of the choir members took a well-deserved nap, dreaming, one might think, about personal highlights of the previous 10 performances and 11 cities now behind them. The other, more alert contingent of the choir looked out the windows and, likely, forward to their final public performance and destination: the famed Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim.

BJMTrondheim, in many ways, is the perfect culmination of the choir’s Centennial Tour. So much of the college’s history and tradition is reflected in the city. It is where Bernt Julius Muus, the founder of St. Olaf College, is buried. Active waterways, a thriving local and tourist economy, and the historical significance of Nidaros Cathedral were highlights for our group.

The choir was greeted by President David R. Anderson ’74 and his wife, Priscilla Paton, who had arrived the previous evening to participate in a graveside service at Muus’ burial site with the dean of Nidaros in attendance. Later in the day a full cathedral greeted the choir, and for the recently graduated “seniors” their final concert with the St. Olaf Choir was emotional. The traditional march down the aisle at the conclusion was accompanied by tears, sniffles, and then lingering hugs as the graduates concluded their time as a member of the this wonderful group.

The Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim, Norway.

Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim.

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

My Stay in Snåsa

By Jordan Boucher ’13                                                                                                  Overland Park, Kansas

Jordan Boucher '13, sings second bass for the St. Olaf Choir.

Jordan Boucher ’13 sings second bass in the St. Olaf Choir.

I thought “fourth meal” was just for Taco Bell, but when we arrived back at our home-stay farm in Snåsa to a spread of bread, cheese, wine, cookies, brownies, fresh milk (as in five-hours-old fresh), moose jerky, sausage, sliced ham, scrambled eggs, hard boiled eggs, and fresh veggies … I remembered I wasn’t in Kansas anymore.

The concert in Snåsa was spot on. The church was packed. Concerts are always tighter when we are right up in the faces of the audience. I know for some it’s the pressure of being really vulnerable as there isn’t the safety of distance that you feel in a concert hall where the stage and the seats are so separated.

For a lot of us, though, it’s the intimacy of sharing the space so close that makes you want to be that much more expressive. When you have a “sardine can” concert, like in Snåsa, you see individual people. Applause isn’t approval of an anonymous aggregate anymore — it is real faces and visible emotion. What was so cool about this concert, though, was that the feeling of intimate, personal connection with the audience kept going after Beautiful Savior, all the way to our home stays.


“Seven big boys” squeeze in on the farm for the fourth meal of the day.

Which brings me back to fourth meal. The family with whom we stayed housed fellow choir members Christian Weeks, Evan Quinnell, Ben Andreae, David Hastings, Jonny Bauman, Mitch Rennie, and me. Seven big boys, with appetites to match. Thankfully, they were used to feeding farm-boy-sized stomachs.

The farm where we stayed was built in the 1860s and the main house was left almost entirely unaltered save the addition of electricity. The ceilings were about 6′ 4″, which made it a tight squeeze for most of us. It felt like stepping into a time capsule (a really snug time capsule).

 Johnny Bauman '13, Christian Weeks '13 and Ben Andreae '13

Johnny Bauman ’13, Christian Weeks ’13, and Ben Andreae ’13 each cradle a barn kitten during their home stay.

Aside from amazing food, we got to play with tiny kittens, the momma barn cat, and Myska, the farm dog who was no less than 70 percent wolf and an absolute sweetheart.

During the concert a calf had been born, so by the time we got back to the farm we got to go see the new baby, and then we stayed up long into the evening (morning?) talking with our hosts about anything and everything.

The experience was the perfect mix of new culture and the taste of home we needed after being away for three weeks. My time in Snåsa will absolutely be among my fondest memories of this incredible tour.

David Hastings '14, Johnny Bauman '13, Christian Weeks '13, Ben Andreae '13 with host parents in Snåsa.

Johnny Bauman ’13, Christian Weeks ’13, Ben Andreae ’13 and Jordan Boucher ’13 with host parents in Snåsa.


Jordan Boucher ’13 and six other choir members were hosted by the grandparents of a student from Snåsa who came to St. Olaf last year.

Of rumbling basses, towering mountains, and Ole traditions

By Jeff Haines ’84 and Heidi Christensen Haines ’85
Participants on the “Groupie Tour” following the choir

We are on one of the two buses on the “Ole Choir Groupie Tour” following the choir (and our son, Jon Erik ’14) through Norway. The strength of the connection between St. Olaf and Norway and between the choir and the sublime traditional music endures as it has for 100 years.

It is incredibly calming, rewarding and centering to be here. Seeing stoic Norwegian faces shine as the choir sings Norge mit Norge only highlights the abiding connections.

"The Mountains Tower" over Jeff (’84) and Heidi Christensen (’85) Haines with son Jon Erik ('14).

“The mountains tower” behind Jon Erik Haines ’14, Heidi Christensen Haines ’85, and Jeff Haines ’84.

And yet, as Eleanor Roosevelt asked (in her prayer used by Abby Betenis in her wonderful new piece commissioned for the centennial and sung by the choir), we also are seeing a “world made new.”

The current St. Olaf Choir (which includes many students not of Norwegian heritage) interacting with alumni and families, meeting Norwegians after the concerts, and absorbing the Norwegian scenery and culture is clearly creating new worlds for them.

Just as hearing the choir testify on Even when He is Silent and This Little Light gives the rest of us faith in and hope for this next generation of Oles and their new vision for the world.

Um! Yah! Yah!


By Michael Kyle ’85

The beautiful rolling hills and farmland of Snåsa, Norway. (Photo credit: Siri Smithback '12)

The beautiful rolling hills and farmland of Snåsa, Norway. Photo by Siri Smithback ’12.

The second to last stop on the tour, Snåsa (“SNOW-sah”), lies at the eastern end of Lake Snåsavatnet, about 100 miles northeast of Trondheim. To Norwegians, the municipality of Snåsa is best known for agriculture and wildlife, but for avid Ole historians it is better known as the birthplace of Bernt Julius Muus — one of the founders of St. Olaf College.

Because of this connection, Snåsa has a history of sending its students to St. Olaf, and has further supported an exchange program with St. Olaf for a number of years. The choir will enjoy the opportunity to interact with this community of Norwegian Oles through the evening concert at Snåsa Church and their second home-stay experience on the tour.

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

Memories of Molde

By Kevin Stocks ’02

Kevin Stocks '02, here with Katie Jenks '13 and Kelsey Hall '13 during a ferry ride, sang first tenor in the St.Olaf Choir from 1999-2002.

Kevin Stocks ’02, here with Katie Jenks ’13 (left) and Kelsey Hall ’13 during a ferry ride, sang first tenor in the St.Olaf Choir from 1999-2002.

In a tour of noteworthy moments, Molde was special. Molde is the first home-stay experience of the trip for choir members and we happened to be in the town on the 100th anniversary of women in Norway gaining the right to vote. This being the case, there were some special events and concerts in town in addition to our own concert at Molde Domkirke. Also, our principle host and Dean of the church in Molde, Øystein Bjørdal, sang in the St. Olaf Choir 1971-72. He has hosted the choir in the past (1980, 1993, 2005) and this would be his last time to host before retirement this fall.

After our arrival to Molde and rehearsal for the evening’s concert, host families met the students with signs and cheerful greetings to take them home for dinner and then back for the concert. It was nice that the students could look out and know someone in the audience, because singing for someone you know makes it extra special.

The St.Olaf Choir singing in a very full Molde Domkirke.

The choir sings to a capacity crowd in Molde Domkirke.

Our expectation for attendees at the evening concert was blown away as the line for tickets stretched out the door. Compared to an estimate of 80 walk-in ticket sales we ended up selling almost 170 (in addition to the online pre-sales). It got a little crazy, to be honest. The total audience was around 500 and they were extremely receptive.

With a large supportive audience, Dr. Armstrong sent notice to the choir during intermission to rehearse the optional piece Arroz Con Leche as an additional encore. Choir President Katie Burk ’13 ran the piece with the choir in the changing room and they added it to the end of the program before Beautiful Savior. It was the first time they performed the piece on this tour and it sounded great. (We sang the piece when I toured Central Europe with the St. Olaf Choir in 2001, so I enjoyed hearing it again.)

Ellie Mears '13, smiles with the Mayor and Bishop of Molde during the concert reception.

Ellie Mears ’15, smiles with the Mayor and Bishop of Molde during the concert reception.

Recognizing the importance of this special day — the 100th anniversary of women in Norway gaining the right to vote — Dr. Armstrong took the opportunity during the concert to mention the historical uniqueness of St. Olaf as an institution educating both men and women since its founding. We are very proud of that and the audience reciprocated with loud applause. Coincidentally, accomplished professional women are well represented in Molde, including the mayor and the regional bishop.

The Molde Municipal Band

The Molde Municipal Band

Possibly the most flashy and exciting moment of the night was after the performance, when the local municipal band outside the church treated the audience and choir to a concert. After a few rousing American-style marches, the band led a parade of people to the reception location while playing. We marched along right behind them.

Kevin Stocks, an alumnus of the choir, is assistant director of Music Organizations for promotions and marketing at St. Olaf.