Andrew Last ’97, Luther assistant professor of music, was named Luther’s Nordic Choir conductor and director of choral activities at Luther, effective fall semester 2017. Founded in 1946 by Sigvart Steen ’23, Nordic Choir gained international recognition for its musical excellence during the storied 57-year tenure of the late Weston Noble ’43, who retired in 2005 and passed away Dec. 21, 2016. Craig Arnold then led the choir until 2010. Last will succeed Allen Hightower, who served Luther from 2010 to 2016.
Luther Alumni Magazine: Nordic Choir has a long and quality tradition at Luther. What is your vision for the choir as its fifth conductor?
Andrew Last: I think, first and foremost, I’m going to need to find a balance between maintaining the traditions of the past and yet having a vision for the future. It wouldn’t be wise for someone to come into this position and think that they’re going to change the whole dynamic. We are rooted in that Lutheran choral tradition. But I also think we have to adapt to what is going on in the current choral climate. There needs to be music in our repertoire that celebrates our heritage, but there also needs to be a celebration of new composers and music. Many of the great choral organizations that are thriving right now are commissioning composers, and young composers for that matter. And so there is the challenge of finding a path that incorporates both of them.
I also think in our Lutheran choral climate right now there needs to be a celebration of diversity and programming of world music. I think that will make some people really happy and make some people a little bit nervous as well.
How will your direction influence Nordic’s sound?
AL: Nordic has had that traditional Lutheran warm sound with attention to unification of vowels, and students have asked me if that will change under my direction. What they don’t realize is that the current Nordic is not the same sound that Nordic had when I was in the choir. It changes over the years and with different conductors. The amount of spin that is allowed changes, the sizes of the voices change, the number of singers in the choir changes. Since the retirement of Weston Noble, the sound has evolved over the past 10–15 years. Nordic has always been beautiful, but a conductor’s sound is a bit like their fingerprint. Nordic’s sound under my direction will celebrate the traits that I value in a choir.
How will you approach the job of choral director?
AL: I love the Luther model. We have four choral directors, and my job is not to dictate to them, but to enable them to conduct their own ensembles and to collaborate with them. I will oversee choral scheduling—especially the Christmas at Luther event and serve as the production’s artistic director. I will also oversee student recruitment and choral auditions. The choir directors will continue to have autonomy with their groups.
What music do you listen to outside of work?
AL: This will be surprising, but I don’t. I do have an iPod with really heart-pumping music to listen to when I run in the morning, but people are always really amazed when they get into my car and I don’t have music playing. I hear so much music during the course of the day that my ears need a break. I enjoy the silence.
What has surprised you since accepting this position?
AL: All the alumni reaching out to say they’re rooting for me. I’ve always felt supported here, but the outpouring of encouragement now is really gratifying.