Christmas at Luther: “For Everyone Born” goes virtual


Dr. Andrew Last directs Christmas at Luther “For Everyone Born” participants in virtual performance of “For Everyone Born” – Photo courtesy of Luther College Music Department

For almost 40 years, the student musicians of Luther College have gathered together to present Christmas at Luther, the annual christmas concert. This year, the theme was “For Everyone Born” and for the first time in history, the event was completely virtual and available to view free of charge. This year’s Christmas at Luther was an event of such magnitude that over 7,500 people tuned in to the livestream this year, and many more tuned in after the fact. The COVID-19 global pandemic has affected music at Luther in many ways, with 30-minute rehearsals, masked practicing, and wind instrument covers all a part of the restrictions that COVID-19 necessitated.
“It was a painful but necessary decision to move to a virtual modality,” Assistant Professor of Music and Director of Cathedral Choir and Norskkor Mark Potvin (‘01) said. “We wanted to do something special, not re-create the in-person experience.”
Instead of just filming a typical concert, the Christmas at Luther creative team created a documentary-style livestream, which included filmed in-person performances, student panels, words from faculty, and the composers of some of the pieces. For the first time, a mass choir performance of the titular piece “For Everyone Born” was composed entirely of individual videos.
Dr. Potvin appreciated how the performance ran parallel to the themes of this year.
“I loved how the “alone/together” aspect of the massed piece encapsulated this time in history,” Potvin said. “It was so rewarding to see the choir performing together, but so melancholic to see all the things that separate us present simultaneously.”
The online format was certainly new, part of the wave of online activities that have arisen from the need to socially distance. It joined the ranks of novel features of Christmas at Luther 2020. New events like faculty ensembles were popular among students and viewers.
“Virtual Christmas at Luther gave us some new traditions,” President of Collegiate Chorale Emma Kuehl (‘21) said. “Like the faculty ensemble, I really enjoyed that. And the student panels were really cool.”
For upperclassmen, especially seniors like Kuehl, there are parts of previous Christmas at Luther’s that were dearly missed. President of Nordic Choir Ryan Ferguson (‘21) missed the in-person connection that came during past Christmas at Luther performances.
“It’s a real experience of bonding,” Ferguson said. “Whether it’s behind the stage or on stage, rehearsing and goofing around is my favorite part because of all the time spent [together].”
The lack of a live audience was a major adjustment for the performers and directors. Several choir members explained that the familial character of Christmas at Luther is outstanding, and losing that meant losing a little bit of that personal connection to the performance. While that personal aspect was gone, this year brought a whole new aspect to Christmas at Luther: accessibility. This new format meant that people who couldn’t normally attend Christmas at Luther were able to watch online instead. Kuehl explained how the online format increased the accessibility of the performance.
“It allowed [Christmas at Luther]to be transported,” Kuehl said. “It’s just so much more accessible to everyone who is interested, or has loved ones in the production, or just wants to hear some Christmas music.”
For students who have family outside of the Midwest, the ability to stream Christmas at Luther made it so that people who could not have necessarily come to see them perform now had the opportunity to watch.
“I’ve heard so many people who were like ‘My favorite part was that my family in Seattle or New Mexico could watch it,’” Ferguson said. “I don’t know how they’ll do that in the coming years, but I think it is something worthwhile.”
The accessibility of the virtual format is something that Fiona Garrity (‘24), a violinist in the Symphony Orchestra, wants to see continued in future Christmas at Luther performances, even when COVID-19 concerns are less pressing.
“Hopefully, the virtual format will allow us to reach a larger audience and maybe spread the [email protected] spirit to those who can’t make it to Decorah to see it live!” Garrity said.
Thinking about the future of Christmas at Luther and what can be learned from this year’s new and innovative experience, Potvin agreed with Garrity.
“I think we’ll be hard-pressed to ever produce Christmas at Luther without some sort of virtual component.”
For those that missed the livestream of the performance, or would like the chance to hear the music again, a recording is available on YouTube and individual tracks are available on Spotify and Apple Music.

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