Music Master of the Middle West

The Story of F. Melius Christiansen and the St. Olaf Choir


Leola Nelson Bergmann

Music Master of the Middle West was first published in 1944. Minnesota Archive Editions uses digital technology to make long-unavailable books once again accessible, and are published unaltered from the original University of Minnesota Press editions.

Probably only in the fields of sports and music could fifty college undergraduates draw 5000 spectators. The far-famed St. Olaf Choir can and does; yearly it amazes concert-goers from New York to San Francisco by its seemingly impossible perfection.

For the thousands who already know the choir and its director, for those interested in music and its development, this book has been written. Here are the stories of F. Melius Christiansen, his choir, and the setting of Norwegian-American Lutheranism out of which he grew.

Christiansen brought to this country a rich treasure of Norwegian folk music. Years of study in Minneapolis and Europe, of directing band and choir groups in midwestern towns, prepared hum for the work that was to bring him fame.

“The story of Christiansen’s contribution to American music, his recognized influence on choral singing from coast to coast, is the story of an Old World heritage shaped and enlarged by the free, wide ways and the deep soul-hunger of the New. ‘Norway gave me much,’ says Christiansen, ‘but America has taught me how to use it.’”

Mrs. Bergmann’s account of the choir, its personnel, training, and experience, is full of lively anecdotes as well as technical details. Her own four years as a member of the group, her behind-the-scenes knowledge enable her to convey the spirit of the singers, to discuss frankly both strength and weakness. But always she insists that success “lies not in the superior quality of the voices that make up the choirs, since Christiansen chooses largely the average, untrained voice, but in the nature of the director.”

Thus it is primarily F. Melius Christiansen’s story, concerned with his techniques and methods and, above all, with the vigorous personality which makes him remembered by all who know him.

Leola Nelson Bergmann began work on Music Master of the Middle West during her years as a student and choir member at St. Olaf College. The background was provided by her Ph.D. in American civilization from the University of Iowa. She was a member of the editorial staff of the Mississippi Historical Review.

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