One of Concordia’s best known traditions is the annual Christmas Concert. However, Concordia’s Christmas customs did not always include this staple.
From Concordia’s founding to the early 1940s, the annual Christmas Tree Party was a must-attend event. Each year, students and faculty gathered in the Old Main gymnasium for a program often consisting of music, drama and oratory. Gifts purchased for no more than 10 to 15 cents were exchanged among students and faculty. The evening closed with a favorite Norwegian tradition – caroling around the Christmas tree.
Concordia staged its first Christmas Concert on Dec. 15, 1927, in Old Main’s chapel. Organized by piano and organ professor Clara Duea and the Concordia Music Club, and directed by Herman Monson, students pantomimed the nativity scene and a women’s sextet harmonized off stage. President Brown read the Christmas gospel and the Rev. Carl B. Ylvisaker delivered an oration on the origin of Christmas hymns, which closed with the choir and audience singing “Joy to the World.”
As the Christmas Concert established itself as an annual tradition, the venue for the concert was changed in order to accommodate increasingly larger audiences. Between 1928 and 1942, the concert was held at either Trinity Lutheran Church or Fargo’s First Lutheran Church. The concert was then relocated to the Moorhead Armory in 1942 until Memorial Auditorium was constructed in 1952. An acoustic backdrop for the concert was required for the performances in the Armory. Painted murals, first designed by Cyrus Running, continue to provide this functional purpose and aesthetic pleasure. David Hetland, a student of Cy Running, began designing the murals in 1981 and continued to dazzle audiences with his work until Paul Johnson took over this creative process in 2009.
The Concordia Christmas Concert is nationally recognized for both its musical and visual artistry. Production of these artistic elements requires the talent of many individuals including the choirs, musicians, conductors, artists, technical directors, music organization managers, facilities staff, and more. Many of these individuals work behind the scenes months in advance to create a stunning experience for the audience.
Photo by Art Hanson: Technical Director Jim Cermak and David Hetland supervise the placement of a mural panel, 1983.
Contributed by Lisa Sjoberg, college archivist