St. Olaf College is one of my grandfather’s favorite topics of conversation and one of the things he is most proud about in his storied life. He speaks about it passionately and sings the fight song any chance he gets.
One of my favorite stories of my grandfather’s occurred during his senior year at St. Olaf. My grandfather lived with F. Melius Christiansen (the founding director of The St. Olaf Choir) and was his so-called “chauffeur” for his occasional outings. That year F. Melius celebrated his 80th birthday, which was a BIG occasion. He and my grandfather attended the 1950 Christmas concert and they discussed it on the way home. It was my grandfather’s thought that the St. Olaf Lutheran Choir should start the concert with music that would rock the audience and not use Bach – which just didn’t do it.
So they sat down, later in the week, to discuss how they could “rock” the audience. They selected words from Psalm 29 as a basis for a composition. For the next five months F. Melius was composing. In May 1951, he called my grandfather into the Music Room and played on the piano his composition of “Give Unto the Lord”. He asked if that was what my grandfather had in mind…and it was!! So, on the original music score F. Melius Christiansen wrote “To my friend Richard R. Vevle” and said that it was his graduation present to my grandfather. As usual, F. Melius set the composition aside for a period of time to let it “ferment” and then he would plan to return to it later and fine-tune it.
Five months after graduation, my grandfather was drafted into the U.S. Army and served in the Korean War. Upon his return, my grandfather went to Northfield to visit F. Melius and learned from his son, Olaf, that he had suffered a stroke and was not receiving visitors. My grandfather asked about the music for “Give Unto the Lord”, and Olaf was not aware of its existence. So, my grandfather thought it was lost forever…
Until at a St. Olaf Class reunion many years ago, my grandfather visited the college’s archivists and told them his “story”. They said they were going through F. Melius’ files and if they found the original composition, they would send him a copy…and they did!! To my grandfather’s knowledge, “Give Unto the Lord” was never been published or sung.
My grandfather often told the story about his friendship & the dedication with pride, but also with intrigue – as he had never actually heard the song.
I reached out to a friend, Justin Mendoza, who was the Music Director for the National Broadway Tour of Wicked and he put together a team of musicians & singers to record the song as it was written.
So in 2012, more than 60 years after his 1951 graduation gift, my grandfather was able to hear the song that was dedicated to him by his friend, the great choral conductor & founding director of the St. Olaf Choir, F. Melius Christiansen.
Composed by F. Melius Christiansen
Arranged by Justin Mendoza
Singers: Rick Desloge, Cassie Okenka, Justin Mendoza, Pamela Shandrow