Author: Julia Pilkington

Flash mob advertises Christmas Festival

On Thursday, Nov. 17, in order to spread the news of this year’s St. Olaf College Christmas Festival, student members of each of the five departmental choirs as well as conductors Dr. Therese Hibbard, Mr. Mark Stover and Dr. Anton Armstrong traveled to the Southdale Center in Edina, MN for a “pop up performance.” This performance included three pieces from this year’s upcoming Christmas Festival, themed “Light Dawns, Hope Blooms.”

The musicians gathered in a central area of the mall, beginning their “pop up performance” with cellist, Sam Viguerie ’17 positioned at the base of the escalators. After a brief cello solo, Viguerie transitioned into the core melody of “Beautiful Savior,” a St. Olaf College hallmark. People shopping at the mall started to congregate near the upper balconies and edges of the central area to listen.

As he played the first round of the melody, members of the St. Olaf Choir descended the middle stairwell. A student soloist in the St. Olaf Choir sang a verse, during which Dr. Armstrong walked to a pre-positioned purple podium facing the stairwell and directed the Viking and Manitou choirs to assemble in a semi-circle around the St. Olaf Choir, and Chapel Choir and Cantorei on the edges of the upper level. They emerged from scattered locations near store fronts and passed by those who had stopped to watch the performance.

All five choirs joined together to sing the traditional portion of “Beautiful Savior,” which is performed annually at the end of each Christmas Festival performance.

Some members of the audience filmed and mouthed along the words with the song. Afterwards, the five choirs dispersed once more and members of the Manitou Choir, conducted by Dr. Therese Hibbard, performed a Scandinavian carol. The St Olaf Choir, conducted by Dr. Anton Armstrong, concluded the pop up performance with a separate Scandinavian carol. Both of the carols were taken from the Christmas Festival carol medley, a composition that shifts pieces year to year but whose framework is present in each Christmas Festival performance. The performance ended with loud applause from viewers.

“It was really special to share a snippet or preview of Christmas Festival with those who have never experienced it … or do not know the tradition of Christmas Festival at St. Olaf. Because I feel like Northfield knows the Christmas Festival tradition, and then there’s other places that are familiar with the Christmas Festival tradition but there are those who are completely unaware of the experience, so being able to spread the tradition to people who have never seen it…” Vanessa Lopez ’17, a member of the St Olaf Choir, reflected.

The goal behind the “pop up performance” was to find a fresh and surprising way of advertising the St. Olaf Christmas Festival. Coverage of this year’s Christmas Festival is unique in that the final performance will be available to stream online for a fee, in addition to the live performances in Skoglund. Minnesota Public Radio will also continue its audio coverage of the final performance. The “pop up performance” was planned between the St. Olaf marketing department, musical organizations department, Southdale Center, and other technical figures. Student performers were told to keep the upcoming performance a secret. When I asked friends who I knew were in the choirs if they could tell me anything about the plans for the performance, they all told me that they could not give me any information until after the performance on that Thursday. After the performance, I asked how long this had been a secret.

“A couple weeks. Because it had to seem spontaneous, it wasn’t allowed to be talked about extensively,” St. Olaf Choir member, Devon Steve ’17, explained.

The performance was streamed through Facebook Live, as well as filmed in parts and later uploaded to St. Olaf College social media platforms. Also among the audience were members of the Star Tribune. At press time, a video of the “Beautiful Savior” performance on the St. Olaf College main Facebook page had garnered over 608,000 views, 5,500 likes, and 734 comments.

“At first I felt it was going to be really cheesy, but it was kind of fun to be a part of this unorthodox way of advertising. Plus seeing how many thousands of views the video has and the increasing number of heartwarming comments on the video showed that people wanted to hear a loving message early on in the holiday season … Sometimes, the most silly things [to you] have a grand impact on those who are watching you,” Steve said.

Christmas Festival will take place Dec. 1 through 4 in Skoglund Athletic Center. Tickets are still available online.

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Above the Clouds

Bursting out of the waves of black,

Mobile mountains of mist,

We arc into a vast sea with Sparkling points of light,

As we soar towards the stars. They,

Uninterrupted, Unbroken, Unapologetic-

Nothing to stop them from here.

Distant yet in our midst.

For them is why I fight,

This sky full of stars you must fly into, to see.

Their icy, objective, nuclear bursts to put the glowing smears of the world below into perspective.

What is right is not difficult to discern here.

Even if my world does not touch their shining spheres,

I cherish them as though we do.

They remind me of the best parts of myself.

Who I am meant to be.

And how I will make the world better with them,

If just for wonder of majesty.

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Political Starbucks cup design met with outrage

Recently, Starbucks released a limited edition green version of their coffee cups covered in a hand-drawn mosaic of over 100 people connected by one unbroken line. It was unveiled on social media with the tagline, “Friends, baristas, and customers drawn in one continuous line – to remind us we are all connected.” The cups were released one week before the presidential election and will be featured until supplies run out. Because the cups were released so close to Election Day, many people assumed they were politically motivated.

In a press release from Starbucks, chairman and CEO Howard Schultz defended the cups, saying that, “The green cup and the design represent the connections Starbucks has as a community with its partners and customers. During a divisive time in our country, Starbucks wanted to create a symbol of unity as a reminder of our shared values, and the need to be good to each other.”

It’s a hopeful and healing message for a hurting nation to receive when they go get their morning cup of coffee.

However, apparently coffee cup designs are indicative of political agendas. Initial social media responses accused the design of being overtly liberal. Others just called the cups ugly and demanded they get their pretty red cups back, preferably with snowflakes.

The situation escalated into a boycott after Drudge Report tweeted a link to a CBSLocal news article with the headline, “Calls To Boycott Starbucks Over Holiday ‘Unity Cup’ Showing Liberal Bias.” After this was posted, many tweeted their support of the boycott.

It seems that people may be drawing the connection from coffee to politics due to the fact that Schultz openly endorsed Clinton and the term “unity” sounds a bit like Hillary’s slogan “Stronger Together.” But still … really? Are people afraid that an artistic coffee cup will sway someone’s vote? As if they will order their first peppermint mocha of the holiday season, see the cup and say “You know what? I must be a Clinton supporter after all!”

Unity is a general term, and many people over the course of the election have called for healing, cooperation, tolerance, kindness and empathy across the nation – unity does not solely need to be a liberal idea. It can be representative of love for humanity, which I do not think can or should be restricted by party lines. But can we all just please remember that this outrage is about a limited edition coffee cup design? And that this is not the first time our nation has gotten infuriated about the design of a seasonal cup?

Just last year Starbucks was publicly accused by evangelist Joshua Feuerstein of waging a “war on Christmas” by replacing the themed designs with a simple red cup and not using the phrase “Merry Christmas” in their stores. He encouraged his followers to tell baristas their names were “Merry Christmas” so the baristas would be forced to write the phrase on the cup, a phrase that they were supposedly not allowed to write anymore. This inspired hundreds of counter protest posts. Snopes pointed out that the symbols previously used on the cups were not inherently religious and used vague phrases like “joy” and “hope.” Despite the outrage, sales were not impacted. According to Business Insider, Starbucks had the strongest holiday in its history by far.

Even if the green cups – or the plain red cups of last year – could be loosely interpreted as political, it is not worth fighting over. The very nature of art is its subjectivity and Starbucks is encouraging customers to be artistic with their cups. There are many issues that this country will face in the coming months as we try to reconcile with the results of the election. I dearly hope that our primary concern will be to hold each other up, not fight over the vague political implications of a disposable coffee cup that could have lent hope when we needed it most.

Julia Pilkington ’17 ( is from Santa Barbara, Calif. She majors in English.

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Ensembles collaborate in historic concert

On Sunday, Nov. 20 at 7:30 p.m. in Boe Memorial Chapel, two of St. Olaf College’s departmental music ensembles will make history: Philharmonia and Norseman Band will share their first ever fall concert. While the two ensembles are not currently planning on collaborating on a piece or overall theme, they will perform consecutively within the same concert.

Traditionally, the St. Olaf Philharmonia, currently conducted by Dr. Martin Hodel, has a fall concert of its own to update its repertoire after its initial concert at the beginning of the year. Norseman Band, currently conducted by Dr. Timothy Mahr, does not have a fall concert, as it participates in the “Festival of Bands” alongside the St. Olaf Band and high school students who compile the “Festival Band.” After active discussions surrounding Norseman Band’s lack of a fall concert, it was decided that the ensemble should have one. Due to limited rehearsal time, however, it was noted that programming a full concert soon following the “Festival of Bands” would be difficult, leading to the proposition to share a concert with the St. Olaf Philharmonia. Meanwhile requests for a shorter concert had already been mounting within the St. Olaf Philharmonia.

“I think we’re doing it because both Norseman and Philharmonia ideally would have a long hour-and-a-half or 45 minute concert, but from the last couple years, a lot of the student feedback was ‘We want a shorter concert because we just played a concert about a month and a half ago,’” student president of the St. Olaf Philharmonia Ingrid Elzey ’17 said.

Additionally, both Norseman Band and the St. Olaf Philharmonia share musicians with other departmental music ensembles involved in preparations for the annual Christmas Festival, which further limits rehearsal time.

“For the students, it is crunch time: crunch time for classes, crunch time for Christmas Festival, because a lot of students overlap … So their schedules are super constrained,” Elzey said.

Benefits for a shared concert include a larger audience, more variety between the ensembles, less stress for the musicians as they have less material to learn and the chance for two ensembles who generally do not have the chance to work together to enjoy one another’s work.

“I think it will definitely be a fun concert. Our music is all really different. Most of it isn’t the normal ‘band music’ that you think of where you might say ‘That’s a little boring, or that’s cheesy’, and yes it is a little cheesy, but it’s fun cheesy. And our pieces are not that long, so it will be a fun eclectic mix that is fun for everyone,” Norseman Band horn player Annika Van Farowe ’19 said.

Norseman Band’s repertoire will include “American Salute” (1942) by Morton Gould, “Pale Blue on the Deep” (2011) by Aaron Perrine, “Nitro” (2006) by Frank Ticheli, “Bayou Breakdown” (2003) by Brant Karrick as well as one extra song that was not performed in the “Festival of Bands.” The songs stretch from reverent to brassy to regimented, but, overall, will be energetic.

St. Olaf Philharmonia’s program will include Mendelssohn’s “Symphony Number 5: Reformation” (1830) and “Hebrides” (1830), along with a brass fanfare and another piece.

“It’s going to be rowdy. Mendelssohn Symphony 5 is being played on almost the 500th anniversary of the Reformation and that’s why I like the piece … It’s not going to drag on and on. It’s going to be really fun, really quick … when you’re playing [the concert], it feels closer to 20 minutes,” Elzey said. “Symphony 5” will mark the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation in 2030.

Overall, the event will take around two hours. Pink cards will be offered for music majors in attendance and streaming will be available and archived at a broadcast media link from the St. Olaf website.

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An opportunity to “Ask a Muslim Anything”

At 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 11, several students in collaboration with the Muslim House, the Diversity Celebration Committee and the Muslim Students Association hosted a panel forum in Viking Theatre titled “Ask a Muslim Anything.” The panel consisted of six student panelists, who were joined by Associate Chaplain for Muslim and Interfaith Life at Carleton College Ailya Vajid.

“The biggest thing in having a panel like this is showing diversity in opinions about Islam,” said Omar Shehata ’18, one of the event’s organizers. “We don’t know the answer for every question and a lot of times we don’t have the same answers to everything, so I tried to have a diverse panel.”

Together, the student panelists and Associate Chaplain Vajid answered anonymously submitted questions about Islamic faith traditions and rituals. Questions were submitted either before the event in a box set out in Buntrock Commons the week before, or during the event by online submission. Event attendees were given slips of paper with the link to the Google form where they could submit questions during the forum. Mazen Abu-Sharkh ’18 and Shehata screened the questions, with the approved questions appearing on the screen behind the panelists to be answered.

“We were just hoping for the attendees to ask the questions without feeling that they were criticized for their questions,” Abu-Sharkh said. “Mostly everybody has a smartphone and mostly everybody is always on their smartphone so it’s just a simple thing – that you write the question, and nobody judges you for that question.”

The event was inspired by previous attempts to reach out to the St. Olaf community through a KSTO radio program, also called “Ask a Muslim Anything.”

“Nobody was calling in. We guessed that’s because it would be hard to ask something rude. So we set up a Google form that would just send questions to my email and then we answered those. We actually started getting a lot of questions – we got questions from people listening at Gustavus Adolphus, which was kind of crazy. Then we thought ‘What if we have a live event?’” Shehata said.

Questions answered during the event ranged from the curious “Do you sleep in your hijab?” to “Do you feel safe on campus and in the United States?” to “Do you get tired of explaining your religion to so many different people?” and even “Explain the multiple wives thing.” When asked, “What is the number one stereotype about you that you hate the most?” multiple panelists responded at once saying that it was difficult to choose which one.

The most discussed question of the night was “Does ISIS do what the Quran says literally? If yes, why are they considered a bad model of Islam?” The panelists denied that ISIS follows the model of appropriate behavior as set out in their holy text, as ISIS’s violent tactics conflict severely with Islamic calls to love and respect one another. Multiple panelists pointed out that Muslims are also the largest targets of ISIS.

One point that came up during the discussion is the mispronunciation of the words “Islam” and “Muslim” by most Americans. While it may seem insignificant, the phrasing is a sign of respect, and the panelists stressed the significance of recognizing it. The correct pronunciation for “Muslim” sounds like “moos-lim”, with emphasis on the “o” and “s” sound rather than “muz-lim” or “moz-lem.” “Islam” is pronounced “Iss-lam” with emphasis on “lam,” rather than “Iz-lam.”

“If there’s one thing that I’ve learned from this event from all of the questions is that there’s a lot of things that people think they know, but they know incorrectly,” Shehata said. “Like people saying ‘The Quran condones beating your wife, does it not?’ and you think you know that, but no, you don’t … there’s so many things that you don’t know, so just ask. It’s okay to ask, look things up.”

Many of the submitted questions were answered. However, some had to be filtered out, mostly from the pre-submissions from the box in Buntrock.

“Not a lot, but certainly a couple. Well someone just blatantly said ‘screw you guys’. Some were ‘is the sky blue?’ … I think it’s because being in the room, seeing the people answering it makes it harder to cross that barrier. But with a box in Buntrock and nobody’s watching you … that might have contributed,” Shehata said.

The organizers hoped that the event helped to clarify misconceptions and calm some concerns.

Abu-Sharkh said, “Just spread the word the word that … there are so many misconceptions about Islam, and do not just judge me. Think as if you were in the same shoes as a Muslim person.”

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