St. Olaf Orchestra’s fall concert will finally feature the most undervalued member of the music department: the talented, ever-present Reference Room heater. In the Nov. 4 concert, romantic, sweet-sounding classics by Johannes Brahms will collide with the intermittent clacking of the heater.
“I was so drawn to heater’s musicality, I needed it to be the center of the fall concert,” St. Olaf Orchestra conductor Steve Amundson said. “The way the metal fan clinks so sporadically – so unexpectedly! – I’m on the edge of my seat waiting to hear what happens next.”
The Grammy-winning heater has been gracing the Reference Room with its warmth and alarmingly loud ticking noises for 42 years. Students pause to hear it as they study, eyes sparkling with fervor and library book dust particles, feeling lucky that, from late October through April, they can hear the melodious growl of the metal performer.
“I can’t focus without the heater’s music,” Twyla Marie ’20, one of the Reference Room’s regulars, said. “I find the ticking soothing. It’s like a reminder that winter is arriving and it’s cold outside and I can be indoors cozied up at a ref room table studying all day. Ugh, I love it.”
“That heater really knows what it’s doing. I could study music my whole life and not even come close to that level of musicianship. I think it’s something you’re born – well, built – with.”
-Jon Sadden ’20
Marie refrains from wearing headphones in the library as “it would be criminal to miss out on even one heater performance.”
The St. Olaf community’s anticipation rises each day as the heater spends every hour clacking away, with a technique that blends tinny elegance and startling rhythmic energy. Some in the music department have criticized the heater, however, claiming that the musical clacking is unconventional. Senior music major Jon Sadden ’20 defends the heater, saying that the purposeful ticking offers a cadence many musicians strive for their entire lives.
“That heater really knows what it’s doing,” Sadden said. “I could study music my whole life and not even come close to that level of musicianship. I think it’s something you’re born – well, built – with.”
The concert will take place on Nov. 4 in St. Olaf’s very own Rolvaag library, where an audience of over two hundred Oles will pack in to hear the heater do its thing. Amundson recommends arriving to the concert early, as it is expected to sell out, and spreading books and papers across a table a few hours before to claim a spot. Depending on the success of the concert, the After Dark Committee (ADC) may host the next Pause Dance in the Reference Room with the heater as DJ.