The Tree of Life My Soul Hath Seen: The Show

Cara Keith, Staff Writer

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The Luther College music department presented its annual Christmas at Luther (CAL) concert from Thursday, Nov. 30 through Sunday, Dec. 3. This year, the theme of the event was “The Tree of Life My Soul Hath Seen.”

The mass ensemble included Nordic Choir, Collegiate Chorale, Cathedral Choir, Cantorei, Aurora, Norsemen, Symphony Orchestra, Luther Ringers, Christmas Brass, and pipe organ. Each night, the ensembles performed to sold out audiences.

Following the theme of the event, the stage was decorated with a large tree with outstretched branches resembling a cross. Leaves hung from the walls, ceiling, and were projected onto the tree using stage lights. The stage decorations also featured Christmas trees with ornaments created by Luther students displaying inspiring messages or images.

The first mass piece was titled “The Spirit of the Lord” by Benjamin Britten and was conducted by Assistant Professor of Music Jennaya Robison (‘96). This vibrant song was about the spirit of the Lord coming upon his people and bringing them comfort and joy. This song featured the members of Nordic Choir, Collegiate Chorale, and Cathedral Choir during certain sections of the song.

President of Nordic Choir Aidan Spencer (‘18) explained how the first mass song for this year’s CAL was unique.

“We’re taking some big steps with mass pieces this year,” Spencer said. “The first [mass] piece was kind of an unexpected [opening mass piece] for Christmas at Luther. It just has a lot of different things happening metrically and tonally. It’s an awakening of sorts.”

The next mass ensemble piece performed was Beethoven’s  “Hallelujah” and was conducted by Director of Choral Activities and Assistant Professor of Music Andrew Last (‘97). One recurring theme in the text of this energetic piece was, “Man proclaim His grace and glory.” This piece featured all choirs and Symphony Orchestra.

The next mass piece, which was the candle-lighting piece, was a French carol by Mack Wilber titled “Whence is that Goodly Fragrance Flowing.” Instructor in Music Mark Potvin (‘01) conducted this piece. Starting with the light from one candle, the choirs and bell choir spread candle light throughout the Main Hall of the CFL. This song is written from the perspective of the shepherds and magi noticing the changes in the Earth at Jesus’s birth. When choir members sang the lyric “worship the savior born today,” they lifted their candles. This choreography aimed to evoke an emotional response from the audience.

Potvin described his excitement in conducting the candle-lighting piece.

“When I found out I got to conduct the candle-lighting piece that was really exciting news,” Potvin said. “I love to turn around during that piece and look at the singers in Cantorei. I just love to look up in the balcony and see those self-assured women soaking it up. It’s not easy to be up in the aisles of the balcony, especially during the candle-lighting piece. That’s part of why I intentionally turn around so that they know that we’re in this together.”

The final mass piece was “A Mighty Fortress is our God” by Ein’ Feste Buro, arranged by Dan Forrest and conducted by Last. This song was arranged specifically for the 500th anniversary of the Reformation that occurred on October 31. The song’s opening featured two percussionists hitting an anvil and a timpani several times, which was meant to imitate the sound of Martin Luther nailing his 95 Theses to the door of the Wittenberg Castle Church.

This piece also had a line written specially for the Bell Choir, according to Professor of Music and College Organist Gregory Peterson (‘83). The handbells were utilized more in this CAL than they have been in past years due to a donation of new handbell equipment.

Attendee Rachel Bartleman (‘21) said that the final piece was her favorite part of the performance.

“I liked the very last song because it brought out the excitement of Christmas at Luther,” Bartleman said. “The pieces throughout were all [connected] and built up to the final piece with the entire choir and orchestra.”

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