Forced online by COVID last year, artists are excited for live Concordia Christmas Concert in 2021

“It’s a little piece of heaven on earth. It truly is a special occasion,” says artistic director Michael Culloton.

Concordia College's annual Christmas Concert returns with a new mural and music this year. Special to The Forum
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MOORHEAD, Minn. — Michael Culloton has a unique perspective that helps him prepare student singers for the impact the Concordia Christmas Concert will have on them.

The event's artistic director tells the students about his first Christmas Concert as a student in 1994.

“I remember walking into Memorial Auditorium and seeing the mural and thinking, ‘Whoa! This is huge!’ There was that sense of awe,” he says, recalling the first time he saw the expansive mural in place and all lit up.

After a year disrupted by COVID-19, the mural is back, the lights are going up this week and on Friday night, Dec. 3, students will fill the stage in Memorial Auditorium for the first of the Concordia Christmas Concerts.

Just as important, Culloton says, a live audience will gather to see the shows.


“Half of the students don’t know what it will be like to see thousands of people stand and sing,“ he says.

Singers stood in the stands of Memorial Auditorium for safe social distancing while recording the 2020 Concordia Christmas Concert. Submitted

The show went on last year. Or rather, it went online. With live audiences out of the question due to health concerns, the concert was pre-recorded and available to stream.

While the music may have been familiar, the concert looked different. Singers were masked and instead of standing on a stage, they stood in the auditorium seats to allow for social distancing. There was no mural or light show.

While all 300-some musicians will be masked — as will all who attend or work the event — this year’s show should look and sound a little more traditional.

“It’s a little piece of heaven on earth. It truly is a special occasion,” he says.

“When COVID hit and we had to be flexible and adapt to the situation, it was challenging. Standing 6 feet away from my peers was difficult, but Concordia still managed to make Christmas feel magical,” says senior Natalie Dahlin. “This year, I am thrilled to be able to return to a ‘mostly’ normal year with our gorgeous mural, stunning lights and music that is sure to touch the hearts of so many. As a senior, it means the world to me to be able to once again make music standing side by side, the way the Concordia music program always intended it to be.”


Last year’s concert wasn’t only trying for the musicians, but also the tech staff that brings some theatrical magic to the concert.

Singers stood in the stands of Memorial Auditorium for safe social distancing while recording the 2020 Concordia Christmas Concert. Special to The Forum

Bryan Duncan has been lighting the Christmas show since 1986 when he was a student and has been the director of campus lighting since 1991. Having an audience again will bring the concert to a different level, he says.

“Being able to see faces again, even behind masks, just seeing the lights in people’s eyes is fantastic,” he says. “Our students light up a little bit more knowing people are out there in the audience, it’s not just the internet.”

He says the pandemic led to other problems, as the company the school rents the stage from liquidated this year. Concert organizers finally found a stage late this fall.

New lights came in late this year, too, so while Duncan has a design planned, he won’t know for sure how things look until full stage rehearsals start two days before the show opens.

“There may be some moment I won’t even realize will be big until we start rehearsals,” he says. “There will be some magic. There will be some fun things.”


Like last year, all of the musicians will be masked for the Concordia Christmas Concert. Submitted

While the Concordia Christmas Concert tells the Christmas story through classical compositions, in his second year directing the show, Culloton is adding some new elements, like liturgical poetry and a Nigerian Christmas song. In years to come, he’s looking for the Christmas Concert to be more inclusive of diverse composers and arrangers.

“We don’t want it to be music from one tradition,” he says.

As the pandemic still lingers, he feels things are looking brighter — and he wanted this year’s concert to reflect that.

“I didn’t want to deal with where we’ve been. No one needs a reminder of where we’ve been for a year and a half. I wanted this to be uplifting,” he says. “It’s going to feel like a Concordia Christmas Concert. It’s going to be joyous.”

If you go

What: Concordia Christmas Concert

When: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 3, and Saturday, Dec. 4, and at 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 5

Where: Memorial Auditorium, Concordia College, Moorhead

Info: Tickets are $22;

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