Reviving the Concordia Christmas Chorale

One of the most memorable events at Concordia College/University each year was the annual Christmas Chorale. When graduates and community members reminisce about Concordia, the Christmas Chorale nearly always comes up.

This year, St. Michael’s Lutheran Church (6700 NE 29th Ave., across from Concordia’s former campus), is going to revive the Christmas Chorale tradition on Sunday, Dec. 17 at 2 p.m. It will be called the Concordia University Alumni and Friends Christmas Chorale. If you are unable to attend in person, you may tune into the livestream here starting at 1:50 p.m.

This service of lessons and carols features the Alumni and Friends Choir directed by Dr. William Kuhn. The organist for the service is Dr. Walter Krueger. Readers of the lessons are former Concordia faculty members. Professor Kurt Berentsen will also conduct. Liturgists are Rev. Dr. Philip Brandt and Rev. Jim Pressnell.

“The Christmas Chorale was one of Concordia’s great traditions,” Kuhn said. “When I first arrived on campus in 2008, people told me about the Christmas Chorale. When I finally experienced the concert, it was all I had been told and so much more. The crowds of people, the well-prepared ensembles, the singing by the assembly, the beautifully decorated sanctuary, and the wonderful organ all added to the magical atmosphere. The Chorale brought Christmas close and was a time to share the mystery of Immanuel.”

A brief history of the Chorale: The Concordia Christmas Chorale began in 1951. It was started by Dr. Art Wahlers, who was directing the men’s chorus at that time. The Chorale was held in the gymnasium which was finished in 1950 (later renovated into the Fine Arts Building). Nurses from Emmanuel Hospital Nursing School joined the men on campus to do mixed choir literature. Women were admitted to the college division in 1954 and to the high school in 1967. The women from Emmanuel participated in the Chorale through December of 1961. St. Michael’s was built in 1959 and the Chorale was held at St. Michael’s by December of 1962, if not earlier.

Directors of the choirs, instrumental groups, and handbells through the years include Wahlers, John Scheck, George Weller, Dale Fisk, Ronald Wellander, John Strege, Dave Mahler, Ray Sievert, Armin Boumgartel, Tim Nickel, Nancy Nickel, Eskel Randolph, Stephan Galvàn, Walter Krueger, Helen Hollenbeck, Judy Schumacher, Kurt Berentsen, Casey Bozell, Zeke Fetrow, Matthew Compton, and William Kuhn.

Kurt Bergdolt created the current cover design in 2011. Laurie Bredehoft created the fabric wall hanging in 2014. It has been used as the Chorale’s focal point since then.

The final Concordia University Christmas Chorale concerts were held in 2019 on Dec. 5, 6, and 7. They were the 69th annual Chorale and were the final concerts held at Concordia before it closed in Spring 2019. Kuhn is excited to see the tradition return this year. And he has high hopes that it will be more than just a one-time event.

“When I first talked to people about reviving the Chorale, I received enthusiastic support from all to whom I spoke,” he said. “We are so pleased that St. Michael’s can offer this to the Concordia family and the Portland area. We hope to be able to continue this tradition for many years to come.”

Bill Kuhn

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