Since 1927, the Concordia Christmas Concerts have become a vital part of life within this institution, the community and the region.
In the beginning
Clara Duea, Concordia’s piano and organ professor, organized the Concordia Music Club in 1927 and one of their activities was a Christmas program. The very first concert was performed in Old Main’s chapel, but in 1928 it was moved to Moorhead’s Trinity Lutheran Church.
Paul J. Christiansen
Christiansen joined the faculty at Concordia in 1937. Among his responsibilities was the continuation of the Christmas Concert. This was the same year the concert venue began to alternate between Trinity and First Lutheran in Fargo.
Cyrus M. Running
Running came to Concordia in 1940 to head the fledgling art department. He had an interest in both art and music and began creating a backdrop for the Christmas Concerts his very first year.
The first backdrop was a large blue sheet of sateen behind a single suspended star. He simulated stained-glass windows to cover the church’s choir and organ lofts.
In 1943, the concert venue was moved to the Moorhead Armory to accommodate the ever-increasing public demand.
After the war, with gas rationing no longer a deterrent to travel, people began coming from even greater distances. The Forum newspaper once took a survey and discovered that the Concordia Christmas Concert was the single event that attracted the greatest number of out-of-town visitors and generated the greatest economic impact on local businesses.
By 1946, three performances were held and within six years five were required to handle the demand. In 1952, Memorial Auditorium was completed and has since been the home of the Moorhead concerts.
On the Road
In 1975, the college took its show to Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis. This was an effort to broaden Concordia’s outreach and to strengthen its ties with a large Twin Cities constituency of alumni and friends.
Running’s final Christmas Concert mural was in 1973. He died on Christmas day in 1976 at the age of 63. Christiansen continued with the Christmas Concerts through 1985.
Running was replaced on the art faculty by Paul Allen, who designed the Christmas Concert murals from 1974 to 1977.
David J. Hetland, who first helped paint a mural as a freshman in 1965, took responsibility for the art from 1978 until his passing in 2006. Hetland designed the mural in a paint-by-number scheme to achieve a stained glass look and allow for volunteers to do most of the painting.
In 1986, René Clausen succeeded Christiansen on the music faculty and as conductor of The Concordia Choir. Clausen is also a renowned Grammy-award winning composer and arranger, a frequent guest conductor, composer and lecturer. In 1996, Clausen was named the Paul J. and Eleanor Christiansen Chair in Choral Music at Concordia.
In 2009, artist Paul Johnson designed and printed the mural digitally for the first time in the concert's history. This is how the mural is created today. Instead of hand painting the design, volunteers and staff affix large sheets of printed graphics to the wood panels in the weeks prior to the performances.
The 2009 Concordia Christmas Concert, "Christmas at Concordia: Journey to Bethlehem," was awarded a 2010 Upper Midwest Regional Emmy for special event coverage by the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Upper Midwest Chapter.
Today, the Concordia Christmas Concerts include four choirs and a full orchestra. There are four performances in Moorhead and two in Minneapolis. The concert is broadcast on regional radio stations.
The 2016 Moorhead concert, "Gather Us In, O Child of Peace," will be recorded by Twin Cities Public Television for airing on television stations across the country.
Laura Caroon '06 is a content strategist at Concordia College.