Poster St. Olaf Choir
The St. Olaf Choir, under the direction of Anton Armstrong, sings at Carnegie Hall in New York City.
Choral Stream

St. Olaf ranks where? Website purports to list top U.S. college choirs

In the Land of 10,000 Choirs, this might be heresy: The College Rank website has listed its top college choirs, and although two Minnesota ensembles (and one in Iowa that we’ll gladly claim) are included in the top 10, none rises to the top.

The venerable St. Olaf College choir, based in Northfield, comes in at only No. 3. The website calls it “one of the most renowned college choirs in American history,” but even that didn’t bring up its rating. The choir’s longevity, many recordings, impressive tour schedule and Emmys are cited, but apparently it wasn’t enough to edge out the No. 2 entry, Washington’s Pacific Lutheran University and its five ensembles.

Coming in at No. 8 is the choir at Concordia College in Moorhead, noted for its distinction as the nation’s “second-oldest Lutheran University choir.” The website also notes: “Not only is this an exclusive ensemble to be in, but it also requires a lot of time and commitment.” A various form of this boilerplate language appears in nearly every entry, which almost makes it seem as if AI were involved in the writing. Of course choral singing is a time commitment!

The Nordic Choir of Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, sneaks in at No. 9. Besides touring the world, it has performed in “famed venues” such as Carnegie Hall, the Mormon Tabernacle — and the Historic State Theatre in Minneapolis. We love the State Theatre, but can it truly be classified with the others? According to College Rank, it can.

Confusingly, the tremendously talented Aeolians of Oakwood University in Huntsville, Alabama, come in at No. 4, even though they are listed as “arguably the best university choir in the United States” and “ranked third worldwide.” You’d think that might put them at No. 1, but no.

So, which choir is No. 1? California’s Mount San Antonio College, which apparently gets the nod because as a community college it punches above its weight. Its two ensembles have performed at Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center and the Monterey Jazz Festival, toured extensively and made multiple recordings. Since the other choirs have similarly impressive credentials, we can only assume it’s the “little choir that could” aspect.

Rounding out the top 10 are St. Mary’s College (California) at No. 5, Georgia Southern University at No. 6, University of Louisville at No. 7 and University of Houston at No. 10.

There’s not much rhyme or reason to these rankings, which claim to be “based on things like competition results, world rankings, touring, historical significance, performing schedule and audition competitiveness.” We’re not even sure if College Rank is worth taking seriously, especially since the rankings carry no byline or cite sources. The site carries no staff listings, and an email inquiry to the only contact listed was returned as undeliverable.

We in the Land of 10,000 Choirs will console ourselves with our over-representation on the list, but we’ll also take it with a grain of salt.

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