The Concordia Christmas concerts have been a staple of the college since 1927, bringing joy to attendees and performers. Each year, since 1986, René Clausen has to constantly think about the next year’s theme after the current year ends.
This year, the theme is The Beauty of the Earth, which focuses on taking care of the Creator’s planet and respecting what has been given to us. Dillon Swanson, student manager of Kantorei, believes this year’s theme isn’t overly Christmas-focused. Instead, it deals mainly with the aspect of Creation.
The concert rejoices in Earth and then follows into the creation story, where there is glory to God and the birth of Christ. A specific piece that Clausen believes truly embodies the theme is “Now is the Cool of the Day” by Jean Ritchie. During this piece, there are soloists that will be placed around Memorial singing in the audience, giving the audience the sense of being surrounded. After each soloist sings their verse, the full choir comes together to sing the repeated chorus.
Clausen said that this year’s theme came together during the summer while he was sitting on the back of the deck discussing ideas with his wife. He was thinking about the numerous natural disasters that had come about in the past year – the plastic in the Pacific Ocean that is twice the size of Texas, as well as the increasing amount of pollution in the air.
“It is up to us to keep the water clear and the grasses green,” said Clausen. “This is a challenge we need to make happen. We need to be good stewards.”
Emily Anderson, Concordia Orchestra’s string representative, mentioned that the theme makes you focus on the planet and climate change .
A big part of the Christmas Concerts is the large mural that stretches across Memorial Auditorium behind the choirs and orchestra. This year, the mural is 200 feet long and 20 feet tall. It features blues, yellows and greens. The big part of this mural comes from taking cues from the music and highlighting a specific song with certain lighting gels, which Clausen thanks Bryan Duncan for.
“It is our most beautiful mural ever,” said Clausen.
More features in this mural are the manger where Mary and Joseph are seen with baby Jesus with renderings of angels from the air, as well as a depiction of diversity with a circle of children from different racial backgrounds.
Orchestra conductor Kevin Sütterlin noted how different this year is for the Concordia Orchestra compared to previous years. The orchestra is playing a lot more than before, which includes playing with singular choirs rather than having a piano accompaniment. He admits that he does have a favorite piece in the concert, “Oh Little Town of Bethlehem,” which features Michael Culloton’s Chapel Choir and the Concordia Orchestra, along with Race Hoglund on soprano saxophone. He will also be conducting more than usual throughout the concerts.
“I get to do the audience hymns, and with over 400 people looking and singing with you, it’s a magical experience.” Sütterlin says. “I’m originally a singer, so it’s like coming home for me.”
All in all, the audience is going to be the biggest receivers of the theme this year. Sütterlin wants the audience to feel the colorfulness of the music as well as the colorfulness of what the college wants to be.
“No matter what faith or background, the audience will feel the magical experience of it,” Sütterlin says.
Clausen says that there should be a splendor of celebration and hope for the planet as well as a healthy country. For him, this concert is important for a number of reasons, including lack of civil discourse among political parties, and the importance of having tolerance and a community. Clausen wants there to be a hope in a new generation.
The Concordia Christmas concerts will be in Moorhead at 7 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 30, 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 1, as well as 2 p.m. on Sunday Dec. 2. The Twin Cities concerts will be performed at Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis on Thursday, Dec. 6 at 6 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.
“It’s an hour and a half of beauty. The audience will feel comforted from the world,” said Clausen.