I left on a shuttle for the airport in Reykjavik at 4:00 in the morning to catch a 7:35 flight to Stockholm. Arriving at the Keflavik airport, I was surprised at how many people were waiting in line but how fast the lines moved. The states could take notes on the efficiency and speed of Europe's airports. After starting my day with a Cappuccino, my new friend, Josh and I bid adieu after spending an unplanned day together in Iceland. He was such a friendly and intelligent man and it was nice to have someone to share my time with in an unknown place. He promises to keep me posted on the amazing beers he plans to try in Brussels and Budapest.
My flight to Stockholm was very smooth. I got to watch the moon and the sun rise at the same time and as we started our descent into Stockholm, I saw an increase in snow on the grounds below me. A blanket of white swept through the country of Sweden and I was overwhelmed in anticipation and excitement to see what this country really has to offer.
After getting off the plane, I was on my own to discover the train system into Stockholm and find my way to Old Town to meet up with Gary. After a 20 minute trip from Arlanda to Stockholm, I became very grateful that the Swedes all speak English very well. After speaking to 2 attendants, I was on the correct metro to Gamla Stan (Old Town Stockholm). I finally met Gary in person at the station and he greeted me with a warm welcome and immediately made me feel like we had been friends for years. He seemed to be impressed that I was able to figure out the metro, but I quickly let him know that it was not easy and I received a lot of help. We went to a small cafe/bakery where he treated me to a Cappuccino and cinnamon bun and we quickly started planning what I would do and see during my short stay for this visit in Stockholm. We then walked on the snow covered cobblestone streets up
the hill to the Old Town Square to his office to drop off my bigger items of luggage. I was able to see
his music library that he has collected on his own, filled with choral music by all composers, especially Swedish. He then handed me some music that his choir was performing for service on Sunday and said, "You can sing Alto with us." I was immediately excited to know I would get to sing under his conducting.
He walked me through the square and took me to the cathedral where he conducts, the Stockholm Cathedral, and I couldn't believe my eyes when I walked in to this cathedral. His place of work was this beautiful space filled with history, detail, and true beauty. I couldn't believe in that moment that I was going to get to sing in this space with the conductor of this historic venue, which the royal family attends frequently. I asked Gary if he ever got nervous to conduct in front of the Royal family, and to my surprise, he said no! He knows that they appreciate his conducting and repertoire selections and I was in awe to know that he has made a career in this historic place known all around the world. I couldn't help but feel star struck knowing he was taking me in as his mentee in a way.
Gary then left me alone while he ran his errands and I was able to explore other parts of Old Town, including the outside of a German Gothic style church, one of the Royal palaces, numerous monuments and statues, and even walked along the Harbour to see the Loch, which is the section of water that connects the lake and sea together. I saw the beautiful city skyline at night while it sensitively snowed. It was a feeling of beauty you can only experience in Europe - in Stockholm.
I met him back at his office and we walked to the metro to catch the subway to the bus station and then a bus to Nacka, a suburb outside of Stockholm, where him and his wife reside. It is a beautiful and peaceful neighborhood and their home is very cozy filled with wonderful decorations, and even a train set!
His wife cooked us dinner: pasta with two types of sauces (basil pesto and a red meat sauce), Caprese Salad, green salad with olive oil, fresh bread, sparkling water, and my favorite, red wine! We were able to converse in some amazing conversation about Swedish choir traditions and how choir
structures have formed into what they were today. I was fascinated to be able to discuss comparisons between Sweden and the states in how choirs are formed and the education that creates the musicians we have in our respective cultures.
Gary Graden studied music in Sweden with the infamous Eric Ericsson, who during that time, was revolutionizing the ideas of what choirs could be. Before thee 1950s, large oratorio and symphonic choirs were all the rage. Big romantic sounds completely enveloped the Swedish Choral traditions and created large, beautiful sounds. Ericsson came in as a conductor in Sweden and discovered that he could consolidate these groups to create what is now called "Chamber Choirs". These smaller choirs created a sound that revolutionized the choir traditions in Sweden. From this, more complicated music was being composed by composers such a Poulence. Tonalities and harmonies could be more complex and create a different color in choirs that hadn't been experimented with before. Gary was able to sing in these groups with Ericsson and was the only American there full time during this revolutionary period.
I was also very interested in listening to him and his wife, Maria, talk about how Swedish Choral Traditions are not as strong as they once were. Just like in America, funding has become more challenging to obtain and younger generations are losing interest in the discipline of music. But in the day cares, music and singing I incorporated into their daily life. But the homes in Sweden are not filled with Swedish music traditions as they once were. I was disheartened to learn this but it is still evident how passionate Gary and Maria are about keeping Swedish Musical Traditions alive in their household. Both of their sons are accomplished musicians as a Cellist and Pianist.
After dinner, Gary and I pulled out some of his solo singing books filled with art songs by Schumann and Schubert and started singing and playing piano for each other. Yes, I was singing and playing piano with THE Gary Graden in his own home! How many people can say they've done this? My heart was so full and my joy and excitement was overflowing. I then discovered he had a jazz fake book. While he was cleaning the dishes I started singing the multitude of songs I knew in this book and even opened up Gary's ears to jazz music he had not heard before. I was able to explain to him how popular jazz music was in the northwest and that I was raised in it from high school, on. Playing music alongside Gary will be a moment I will treasure forever and I am still in disbelief that this is my life in this moment.
I feel lucky and blessed to be able to meet people like Gary and I can't wait to see what Stockholm has to offer me next. I hope my stories can inspire others to pursue their dreams of traveling, performing, or meeting people in the fields they are most passionate about. I can't even explain the feeling of how rewarding it is. And I'm only on day 2!
Until next time to my family, friends, and supporters. Lots of love from Stockholm to you all!