Midwest Living Review
Even if we hadn't known that Norwegian immigrants established this Lutheran college in 1861, it wouldn't have taken us long to pick up on some of the clues. Dozens of people in the crowd at the annual Christmas at Luther concert sport beautiful Norwegian sweaters with their telltale bands of snowflake-style designs. Several of the carols on the holiday program are sung in Norwegian, and you'll find Norwegian goods for sale (and flags flying) in downtown Decorah. All of those little details add a wholesome, old-world vibe to a holiday visit to this college, where nearly half of the 2,500 students are musicians and about 20 percent of them plan to make a career in music. The school has six choirs and three orchestras among its music offerings, which explains, in part, the power of Christmas at Luther. But only in part. Fans of Handel's "Messiah" who thrill at "For Unto Us a Child is Born" have heard it in an entirely breathtaking way when 650 trained singers lend their voices to the Biblical words of Isaiah. "Ave Maria," sung by a tenor choir with a fresh arrangement, takes on a wholly different and prayerful sound. The singers, some clad in colorful choir robes, others in black, systematically make their way through the 1,600-seat auditorium inside the Center of Faith and Life, appearing in the aisles and balcony as often as they stretch across the stage. A pipe organ lends a churchlike feel to some pieces, while a capella moments prompt simple reverence. Iowa Public Television broadcasts an Emmy-award-winning Christmas at Luther concert from 2005, but it can't replace seeing the assembly in person. Tickets generally sell out months in advance, but we were able to snag two folding chairs in the back of the auditorium a few weeks before a 2011 show. The $22 we spent for two tickets to this amazing concert was more than worth the price of admission, and it clearly is a holiday tradition for generations of families, whether they hail from Norway or not.