Reviving a December tradition with the Good Lutheran Colleges
After taking several years away from it, December 2022 witnessed the revival of a long-standing tradition I started back around 2000 – the “Good Lutheran College Christmas Concert Tour”, which features a trio of concerts presented by some of the top Lutheran colleges in the Upper Midwest. While many people have heard of St. Olaf’s holiday concert, many Lutheran colleges in Minnesota, South Dakota, and elsewhere in the Upper Midwest celebrate Advent with rich, amazing Christmas concerts. For the 2022 version, I was able to convince a long-time friend to accompany me, Elizabeth Webb – which also happened to be her first trip to this part of the country, let alone in December when the weather can be unpredictable.
Our flight for Minneapolis/St. Paul departed early, and we landed in time to pick up a rental vehicle and start heading northwest towards the Fargo/Moorhead area for our first concert at Concordia College. The Concordia concert is massive, and features a 150’ mural that is assembled in Memorial Auditorium the week leading up to the concerts. The mural is different each year, is related to the theme, and serves to help transform the gymnasium into a concert hall. More than 300 students participate in the 5 ensembles that are featured in the concert.
2022’s theme, "Star of Bethlehem, Lead us to Peace", was fitting for the first full scale concerts since the pandemic, and the excitement among the participants and attendees was palpable. The concert exceeded expectations, and the lighting of the mural throughout the performance accentuated various subthemes.
This year the weather also did not disappoint, as a quick snowstorm hit the Fargo/Moorhead area on Friday afternoon as we arrived. Along the way, we were able to enjoy a fantastic lunch at Charlie’s Café in Freeport, along with the striking church in town, but the temperature was nearly 30 degrees colder by the time we got to Moorhead. The lows Friday night were well below zero, so it was a real indoctrination for my friend from Georgia.
Saturday morning, the sky was bright and sunny and the roads were clear as we traveled the next leg of the journey from Fargo/Moorhead to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, home of my alma mater, Augustana University. We were able to take in the sights of Falls Park and tour of Augie’s campus before heading to dinner at Minerva’s for dinner prior to the concert.
During my years at Augustana, I played in the brass choir, so the Christmas Vespers concert was always a highlight at the end of the first semester. This year’s theme of “Home By Another Way” was fitting, since the narration during the concert/service focused on the scripture that indicated the 3 Wise Men journeyed back home via a different way after they left the scene in Bethlehem. The concert took place at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in extreme Southeast Sioux Falls, and I was impressed by the much improved quality of the Augustana Choir and women’s choir. The Northlanders Jazz Band added a unique component to the concert.
By Sunday morning the temperatures had warmed into the upper 20’s and 30’s, and we began our return trek towards Minneapolis. Sunday afternoon’s concert was at Gustavus Adolphus College in beautiful St. Peter, MN. The campus is located on a hill overlooking the striking Minnesota River Valley and Christ Chapel is a gorgeous venue for the concert.
As with the other two, this concert features multiple choirs, orchestra, and handbell choir as they worked through the theme of “Celestial Wonder, Joy Unfolding”. Gustavus also integrated liturgical dancers and spoken poetry into this year’s concert. The musical selections were challenging and the students and directors pulled off an incredible event again this year. It’s an uplifting way to cap off this holiday season journey.
It was snowing lightly the next day as we explored the Twin Cities and made our way to the airport for our return flight to Atlanta. While there are certainly numerous holiday concerts in Atlanta and the surrounding area, the gift of the Christmas concerts by the Good Lutheran Colleges of the Upper Midwest cannot be beat.
Photos: Top to Bottom, Left to Right:
Row 1: Christ Chapel, Gustavus campus; Interior of Christ Chapel; with Elizabeth Webb in Moorhead, MN
Row 2: Ole the Viking, Augustana campus; Falls of the Big Sioux River
Row 3: Concordia College, Moorhead, MN