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The Carletonian

Choir returns with new director

<rleton’s new music performance hall isn’t the only part of the music department that has been rebuilt this fall. The Carleton Choir, following a year of low enrollment, now has 29 members this term with an expected 14 more enrolled for winter.

This choral comeback is thanks to Visiting Director Matthew Olson. A Minnesota native, Olson discovered his passion for choir in his freshman year of high school, after which he went on to study both choral and orchestral conducting at St. Olaf College.

In addition to his current position at Carleton, Olson is the Artistic Director of Oratory Bach Ensemble, a Guest Conductor of Magnum Chorum and the Assistant Conductor (as well as member) of the Singers, a nationally acclaimed professional choir based in Minneapolis.  

When asked what inspired him to come to Carleton, Olson said that it was his love of teaching, in addition to conducting and performing, that made him excited to instruct and learn alongside young adults.

“Carleton is a community full of incredibly smart people that are also inherently creative and authentic, and I think that’s a recipe for a great chance to rebuild a choir program in a school that really deserves to have a wonderful choir,” said Olson.

However, rebuilding a choral program from the ground up is no easy task. Most importantly, Olson is focused on spreading the word around campus that there is a singing community at Carleton for anyone who wants to be a part of it.

“The choir community has definitely added joy to my life,” said Anna Schumacher ’21. “The choir members care about making music, are passionate about what they do and are very welcoming and kind.”

In addition, Olson tries to “address the wonderfully broad variety of singing background that exists in the Carleton Choir.” The current 29 singers come from diverse backgrounds with a wide range of choral experience. Olson aims to highlight the strengths of the diverse group, while also rising to the challenge of making a beautiful, unified sound.

Finally, Olson strives to select music that he thinks represents who Carleton is as a community. According to Olson, “music speaks to who we are and who we want to be.”

It is his goal to create a place for everybody, with something for everybody. “Regardless of your major or passions, if you enjoy singing, this is the place for you,” said Olson.

Looking forward, Olson’s main goal is to attract more singers to the choral program. In addition to the greater energy more voices would bring, having more singers also allows for greater potential, particularly in terms of balance between voice parts.

Currently, the choir is comprised of a majority of treble voices (soprano and alto). If more tenors and basses were to join, Olson believes the choir could take on a broader variety and more challenging repertoire. Many of the current choir members share Olson’s view.

Ellie Maltby ’20 said, “Getting used to singing with new people and learning what works and what doesn’t work is always a process, and it will be really cool to watch this group grow… Next term we already have more students signed up, and I am really excited for the new music we will be able to perform with a bigger group.”

This Sunday, the choir had its first performance of the year. The repertoire performed featured a diverse range of songs, from traditional Haitian music to Mendelssohn to a cover of Radiohead. When asked what excited him most about the concert, Olson said it was “the privilege of sharing our hard work with other people, [it] reminds us what we do as musicians is a gift to ourselves but also a gift to the wider community.”

During Winter and Spring terms, the choir will explore even broader styles of music. The theme of their Winter term repertoire is jazz, global and gospel music; the choir will collaborate with the Jazz Ensemble for a joint performance. In the spring, the choir will take part in an interdisciplinary project that combines visual and performing arts groups from Carleton, St. Olaf and the wider Northfield community.
When asked what their favorite thing about choir is, current members say setting aside 4.5 hours per week specifically dedicated to music. “Having time carved out of my day to solely focus on singing and making music…makes me very happy and makes my days better. Choir is a great break in the day to forget about the heavy Carleton workload,” said Maltby.

The current singers also mention working with Olson as a favorite thing about choir. “Matthew has been wonderful to work with! He is very patient and helps us to work our repertoire in nuanced ways. As he is a younger conductor, he also keeps the atmosphere of rehearsal choir lively, which can be a godsend on long, sleepy days,” said Schumacher.

Maltby agrees, saying that “[Olson] is knowledgeable and brings a great energy to our rehearsals. It can be difficult to strike a balance between having fun, while also taking choir seriously, and Matthew has done a great job.”

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