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  • Susan Cartmell

The Power of Music

Pilgrim Church has been known for its music and this period of time is no exception. When we designed the online services we knew we wanted to include the hymns of faith. The original restrictions make recorded music our best option and we turned to the St. Olaf College Choir from Northfield, MN. Founded by Norwegian Lutherans in the late 1800’s, St. Olaf attracted students with choir experience and developed one of the finest choral programs in a rival liberal arts college in the country. 


          Their choir is known for its diction, harmonies and tone. Their many renditions of Protestant hymns offer some of the best church singing anywhere. Many of you have commented on the music and I want to share some more about the St. Olaf Choir.



          I first learned about St. Olaf in High School when a friend of mine applied. But it is their choir that has really put the school on the map.  Here is a link to a song the choir did virtually during the pandemic, as a way to  honor and thank their choir director Anton Armstrong.


          Anton Armstrong has an inspiring history himself. Born in New York City , Armstrong grew up on Long Island, the youngest of three boys. He became interested in singing through his church choir, but it wasn’t until he auditioned for the American Boychoir that he was really hooked on choral music. (We use recordings of the American Boychoir at our Wednesday Prayer Service; their versions of songsKumbayaandSoftly and Tenderlyhave become a stable on Wednesdays.)Mr. Armstrong was introduced to St. Olaf in high school when his pastor bought tickets to hear the St. Olaf Choir in Avery Fisher Hall, on a concert tour.  On that same night Armstrong had his own tickets to hear theMoody Bluesin Madison Square Garden, but his mother insisted he should not disappoint their pastor.


Armstrong’s gifts in music were recognized when he went to St. Olaf and sang in the choir, himself for four years. For the last three decades he has served his alma mater as Director of Choral Activities.  Not only has he been key to building the choir's reputation with national and world-wide tours, Armstrong conducted the American Boychoir, and now conducts the World Youth Choir and the Bach Summer Festival in Oregon.  What stands out for me when I listen to the St. Olaf choir is the faith in the singing. It has integrity; that only happens when singers sing from the heart. 


          Last March I contacted the college to notify them that I wanted to use their music. I asked their permission and sent a donation. Their gracious response was positive and now they have added me as an honorary alum. “Go Olies!”


“I want the power of music—that Spirit—to transform those who perform and those who will hear the message. For me, that is a very powerful reason for doing what we do.” (Anton Armstrong)


Rev. Susan

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