'Pride of the Northwest': The Early History of The Concordia Choir
In 1893, professor John Dahle created the Concordia College Choral Class to perform Haydn’s "Creation." This choral group brought much pleasure to residents in Fargo-Moorhead as its performance was the first presentation of an oratorio in the city.
In March 1897, the Concordia College Octette formed, presenting concerts not only in Fargo-Moorhead but also in surrounding communities. Annette Peterson, piano instructor, created the Mendelssohn Quartette in 1898.
Beyond these choral groups, students did organize and lead a variety of small singing groups. Mixed choruses, however, were not created until 1906 when professor J.P. Bohlin formed glee clubs. Oscar I. Hertsgaard, director of music from 1909 to 1913, created a Massed Chorus Concert including Concordia students and members of local Lutheran church choirs. This group presented its first Choral Union Concert in February 1911 – a tradition that continued until the start of World War I. Agnes Skartveld, voice teacher from 1919 to 1922, came to Concordia after teaching at Park Region Luther College. Under her tenure, she created a 16-voice a capella choir and is thus credited for forming the Concordia College Choir.
The 1920s were an important decade in the development of the choir. Paul Ensrud, professor of music from 1920 to 1921, enlarged the choir to 50 members and led the choir’s first tour to Perley, Hendrum, Ada, Fertile, Hitterdal, Ulen and Hawley. In 1921, A.O. Christenson became the choir director, leading the musical group on its second tour to Barnesville, Fergus Falls, Pelican Rapids, Evansville and Alexandria.
Herman W. Monson came to Concordia in 1923 and was charged with directing both the choir and the band. Embarking on many tours, the Concordia Choir gained national acclaim under Monson’s leadership. Monson led the choir on its first tour of North Dakota in 1924, which was greatly eased by the purchase of Model T buses specifically for musical tours.
One of the most adventurous choir tours was in spring 1925 when the group ventured to northern Minnesota. Inclement weather created muddy roads and difficult travel for the entourage, often leading the buses to travel not more than 4 mph. The day the group was to travel from Blackduck to Northome the conditions were so poor that choir members had to drag timbers to create 150 feet of roadways for the buses. That evening, some audience members walked 10 miles in the mud to attend the concert. Many of the same choir members joined the St. Olaf Choir and the Luther College Band later that spring to perform before President Coolidge as part of the Norse-American Centennial in Minneapolis.
In 1926, the choir embarked on a tour to North Dakota and was greeted with overflowing audiences. The press claimed the choir was “the pride of the northwest.” The late 1920s and early 1930s saw the choir travel to the West Coast and also sing with the Minnesota Symphony in a WCCO broadcast performance from Northrop Auditorium. In 1935, the Model T buses were discarded in favor of chartering commercial buses, and Herman Monson resigned. Paul J. Christiansen, who would lead the choir to international fame, joined Concordia’s staff in 1937 in his early 20s. Under Christiansen’s leadership, the choir performed throughout the nation, including New York and Washington, D.C., and traveled abroad on its first international tour to Norway in 1949.
In reference to the Concordia Choir, a newspaper once remarked, “This choir opened the eyes of many people to the great work Concordia is doing for its students and the influence it eventually brings upon the territory in which it is located.” For nearly a century, this comment has been echoed by the resounding success of Concordia’s chorus.