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"Sköna toner från New Jersey": Cantabile Chamber Chorale wins hearts in Sweden
by Judith Johnston for Vocal Area Network
Posted September 11, 2005

Cantabile tour in Swedish newspaper"Beautiful tunes from New Jersey" was the headline below a color photo of us in the regional Swedish newspaper (Nya Wermlands Tidnung, 29 Juni 2005, page 22), during our recent tour of Sweden (June 24-July 5, 2005). Choral singing is so popular in Sweden that 1 in 8 people rehearse in a choir every week--and everyone else seems to go to the concerts! Throughout our three-concert tour, audiences were larger than we or our hosts had expected, and they were wonderfully responsive, smiling and nodding during the singing, and giving us generous applause.

How did we get those audiences? We had contacted our host choirs a year in advance, and before our concerts we sent them a short press release in Swedish, color posters, and photographs of the choir. Our hosts gave us enthusiastic support. They not only booked the concerts but also sent our publicity to the appropriate local newspapers and got our concerts announced in tourist and church calendars. To build the audiences more, we identified other choirs in the neighborhood of our three concert locations and e-mailed them our press release in Swedish. Collaboration and advance planning won us an audience of 90 for our first concert, 160 for our second concert, and 180 for our third concert.

The Swedish audiences appreciated the American program, selected by our director, Rebecca Scott. We sang music of North and South American composers from the 20th and 21st centuries, including two major pieces that our choir had commissioned and premiered in the USA in our 2004-2005 season. We gave our Swedish audiences premieres of these new choral works: And the Night Shall Be Filled with Music, by Eric Ewazen (b. 1954) and Lakol z'man--For Everything a Season, by Gerald Cohen (b. 1960). Also on our program were: I Sing, by Emma Lou Diemer (b. 1927); Sure on This Shining Night, by Samuel Barber (1910-1981); Serenity and At the River, by Charles Ives (1874-1954); Balia de Sehù, by Edouard Toppenberg; Lua, Lua, Lua, by Ester Scliar (1926-1978); Caña Dulce, by José Daniel-Zuñiga; Noche de Lluvia by Sid Robinovitch (b. 1952); Ezekiel Saw the Wheel; Swing Low, Swing Down; and Fascinatin' Rhythm by George Gershwin (1898-1937), followed by the virtuosic fireworks of Gershwin's piano solo performed by our pianist Lloyd Arriola.

We gave our first concert Sunday, 26 June, in the Silbodal Church in Årjäng in western Sweden, near the border with Norway. Our host, Carina Sonesson-Olsson, church choir director and a teacher in the local music school, welcomed us with coffee and cakes, brought members of her choir to rehearse with us three pieces: Amazing Grace, Shall We Gather at the River, and the Tallis canon. We surprised them by having learned the traditional and much beloved song of the region, Ack Värmland du sköna--in Swedish. After the concert, they welcomed us in the church house with a home-cooked dinner and summer wildflowers on every table.

The regional Värmland newspaper took our photo at Swecamp Sommarvik in Årjäng, just before we sang American popular music informally in the pub there. This Swedish resort, like Interlochen, has hosted hundreds of student bands and choirs for musical weeks. Thanks to Sommarvik's manager, Christer Fransson, we had a wonderful, relaxing three days at Sommarvik (www.sommarvik.se), enjoying the swimming, canoeing, hiking and just breathing the fresh, clean air.

In Karlstad, at the Cathedral, we gave our second formal concert, on Wednesday, 29 June, attracting an audience unexpectedly large, according to our host, Hans Nordenborg, organist and music director. During this concert, we invited the entire audience to sing Ack Värmland du sköna with us--and they did, from memory! We were especially glad to sing in Karlstad, where one of Cantabile's former members, Michael Wherrity, has moved to teach at Karlstad University. Michael and the cathedral choir hosted a Swedish dinner for us after the concert. He helped us book the concerts in Karlstad and in Årjäng.

In Stockholm, we gave our third concert, on Sunday, 3 July, at Sofia Church, high on a hill, and visible from many locations in Stockholm. Our host choir, the Sofia Vocal Ensemble, sang with us Amazing Grace, Shall We Gather at the River, the Tallis canon, and we sang two pieces in Swedish with them: Uti vår hage (about the beautiful flowers in the meadow) in an arrangement by Hugo Alfvén (1872-1960) and Kung Liljekonvalje (King Lily of the Valley) by David Wikander (1884-1955). After the concert, they had a reception for us, and then we all walked to a vegetarian restaurant for dinner.

A month after our return, Per Åsberg, President of the Sofia Vocal Ensemble in Stockholm wrote: "We are all very pleased with your visit and glad over the great concert. Thank you so much for all the letters I received from your choir. I read them all to the choir and they appreciated them a lot." As Cantabile members waited in the Stockholm airport for the flight home, we handed to them addresses for three of our local hosts, so that they could write thank-you notes-and most of us did! We won each others' hearts, and we hope to host these Swedish choirs in the USA in the future.

For more information about the Cantabile Chamber Chorale, visit www.cantabilechamberchorale.org.

Judith Johnston sings with Cantable Chamber Chorale. This is her first article for Vocal Area Network. (This article first appeared on the Cantabile web site.)

Content Contact: Judith Johnston.
Revision Date: September 11, 2005.
Technical Contact: Steve Friedman.

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