St. Olaf choir sings spirit-filled praise at Zion

With voices lifted toward the heavens and the Holy Spirit igniting each note with passionate sounds of praise, Revs. Mark Tiede and Peter Nycklemoe spent their St. Olaf College years as part of the acclaimed college choir.

Zion Lutheran Church pastors Rev. Mark Tiede and Rev. Peter Nycklemoe sang with the acclaimed St. Olaf College choir when they were students there 20 and 30 years ago, respectively.
Zion Lutheran Church pastors Rev. Mark Tiede and Rev. Peter Nycklemoe sang with the acclaimed St. Olaf College choir when they were students there 20 and 30 years ago, respectively.

Each of them singing first tenor – Tiede during the 1990-1993 season and Nycklemoe during the 1982-1985 season – the men toured the United States, Denmark and Norway.

Their experience with the choir was life-changing, affirming and inspirational, they said.

“For me, it was a spiritual experience. Singing ancient texts, where music and words of faith come together, that is life changing,” said Nycklemoe.

Tiede put it this way. “The focus was on God through music … We were steeped in this soft, beautiful and transcendent love of God expressed through the music itself,” he said. “And when we performed it, I heard quite often from people who attended the concert that there was something holy that happened during the concert.”

“It was during my time in the St. Olaf Choir that my inner sense of being called by God to become a pastor was being cemented.”

Nycklemoe and Tiede and hundreds more will hear those melodic and life-changing sounds once again when the St. Olaf Choir comes to Anoka for a 7:30 p.m. Jan. 25 concert at Zion Lutheran Church, where Tiede and Nycklemoe are both pastors.

After an acclaimed tour to Norway in June and the nationally televised “Christmas in Norway with the St. Olaf Choir” in December, St. Olaf Choir and conductor Anton Armstrong present their winter tour concert at Zion before embarking on a 15-concert tour to the southeast United States in February.

Founded 101 years ago at St. Olaf College by F. Melius Christiansen, the St. Olaf Choir is internationally recognized as a creative force behind America’s a cappella choral tradition, and it has set high standards for choral music performance.

During the past century the choir has been hailed for its artistry and beauty of sound.

“As we embark on these next 100 years, we are striving to present music that is relevant for the day,” Armstrong said. “While we celebrate and uphold the finest of the Western choral canon, we also need to be a voice representing contemporary music that speaks to today’s human condition.”

That “voice” is created when the choir’s five dozen members sing as one.

“One thing people do not always know is that everyone in the choir holds hands while we sing,” Tiede said. “We do that for several reasons, but my favorite reason is that it makes us feel like one instrument rather than a group of individual singers.”

Those singers become “one instrument” only after passing two rounds of rigorous vocal auditions to become part of the choir.

“It is not just the music majors who are accepted into the choir, nor is it always the most gorgeous voices who are in the choir,” said Tiede.

“The voices chosen are the voices which match the existing voices as well as possible. The auditioning voices are tested through two rounds of vocal auditions where the ‘tenor’ and ‘color’ voice is listened, tonal memory is checked, and of course pitch …”

And then, the instrument emerges, Tiede said.

A review published in the New York Times described the sound produced by St. Olaf Choir this way, “When they opened their mouths to sing, an even wall of sound emerged: words clear, notes true. But more than that, the notes were felt …

“(The St. Olaf Choir is) good because of its remarkable balance and mellow tone … It’s good because of its dynamic shadings: its ability to sustain, then build from, nearly inaudible pianos, or to distinguish between a forte and a fortissimo … Dr. Anton Armstrong, the group’s leader since 1990, is clearly a gifted choral director – and a teacher to the core.”

For tickets ($20 for adults/seniors and $10 for students) visit or call 1-800-363-5487.

Zion Lutheran Church is located at 1601 Fourth Ave., Anoka.

Sue Austreng is at
[email protected]