When she was in high school, Kirsten Newlin passed up an opportunity to travel to Minnesota with her parents to watch the St. Olaf Choir perform its internationally acclaimed Christmas program.
She did not want to miss out on performing in a local concert with Augusta Children’s Chorale.
Her parents returned with a taped copy of the concert. Newlin was blown away when she watched it and knew she wanted to join the St. Olaf Choir.
“I kind of realized they were the best. I wanted to be with the best,” she said.
Now a senior music major at St. Olaf College, she sings Alto 1 and serves as vice president of one of the most prestigious a cappella choirs in the country.
“There’s just nothing like it,” she said. “It’s definitely been one of the most amazing experiences of my life.”
Newlin and the St. Olaf Choir will perform at St. John’s United Methodist Church at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 11.
It will be the choir’s first appearance in Augusta. The performance is one of 16 concerts the choir will perform in 17 days throughout the Southeast.
It tours a different part of the country each year, including the mid-Atlantic states, New England, Florida, Texas and the West Coast, said choir manager Bob Johnson.
He said sometimes he is able to schedule performances in singers’ hometowns, such as the performance in Augusta.
Conductor Anton Armstrong said Newlin has been excited about the prospect of performing in her hometown.
“It’s always nice when we go to the hometowns of our singers,” he said.
Newlin said she fell in love with choral music when she started singing with Augusta Children’s Chorale.
“It was exciting to be in that and to realize how much artistry goes into music making. Then I just started doing everything I could with the choral society and the opera and the community theater,” she said.
She performed with the chorale for six years and joined the Augusta Preparatory Day School chorus, the Augusta Opera and the Augusta Choral Society. She has also performed with Fort Gordon Dinner Theatre and The Augusta Players.
“I’ve always loved singing,” she said. “I’ve always loved performing.”
She described auditioning for a spot in the St. Olaf Choir as one of the most frightening experiences of her life.
The audition process is long and rigorous, but it must be, Armstrong said. He needs not only singers with a beautiful voice, but a desire to be a part of something greater, not a singer who wants to stand out.
“It’s more than just musical skills,” Armstrong said. “I’m looking for a beautiful voice, (but) it’s people who want to come together with a servant heart.”
He also needs students who are strong academically, as choir members miss a lot of class while they tour.
“We’re developing body, mind, spirit and voice,” he said.
Last year, Newlin and the choir toured Norway for 24 days, performing 11 concerts and visiting educational sites throughout the country.
“I was so excited,” Newlin said. “Like the choir, I have a strong Norwegian heritage. I was very excited to be a part of that.”
When she graduates later this spring with a Bachelor of Art in music, she plans to teach music education in inner-city schools.
“I know she can’t wait to get into the classroom to teach,” Armstrong said. “Once she gets into the classroom she will be infectious with her love of music.”
During its visit to Augusta, the choir will reach out to local youth arts groups. The day of the performance, the singers will visit John S. Davidson Fine Arts Magnet School for a short afternoon assembly, and students from the Jessye Norman School of the Arts have been invited to watch rehearsals at St. John’s.
On Feb. 12, the choir will move on to Greenville, S.C.
Newlin said she is excited not only to be performing in her hometown, but also at her home church.
“I’m really excited because the people who were my music teachers growing up in Augusta are all going to be there,” Newlin said. “I’m in this ultimate experience in choral music, and I get to share it with people who helped me become the singer I am.”