Monday, January 11, 2016

Days 3 & 4 - Stockholm

Day 3 & 4

It has been a busy last couple days and I got a tad behind on my entries so my apologies for those following my blog. I plan to get you caught up as best I can on what has gone on the last couple days.

Saturday - January 9th

After sleeping a full night and having a relaxing morning at the Graden household with a BEAUTIFUL view outside,  I prepped myself to venture out into Stockholm on my own. Gary helped me with the bus routes and train routes and I was on my way to the Sofiakyrka for a concert by the Rasmusson Vokalensemble under the direction of Inka Rasmusson. They are considered an amateur choir; this means they are good singers but are not compensated for their time and work. They had an absolutely beautiful sound that was light and pure. There was no vibrato that was used at all and the men dominated the choir as a whole. The women seemed to be taught to float over the men with a light, airy sound. The blend within each individual section was perfectly blended and not one voice stood out. I noticed in their mixed setup that the tenors stood on the outside of the half circle they had created. 

The compositions and arrangements were all done in the 20th century, including Poulenc, Rachmaninoff, Rathbone, and even some arrangements made by the conductor, Rasmusson. The music was also mostly done with score in hand and only a couple of pieces were done for memory.

In terms of tonality and diction, I noticed that vowels were more important than consonants. This was evident in the English pieces they performed. In the states, diction is very important so everyone in the audience can understand what you are singing. But once thing I notice in Sweden is that tone and vowel shapes take precedence over pronouncing the consonant in the words. I also notice that when they sing in different languages that they don't adapt to that languages dialect. For example, when they sang the Rachmaninoff, which is in Russian, their vowels were still very bright, whereas Russian is a very dark and shadowed tone. 

The conductor didn't do much in terms of expressing a lot in her conducting. She would only keep time during a meter change and would move her arms in circles to keep the choir moving so they wouldn't drag in time. She would also acknowledge when parts were to come in but other than that the choir was very independent. There were even some pieces where she didn't conduct at all. 

One thing I found interesting is not everyone in the choir sings for every song. It seems like they choose the projects and pieces they work on based on their schedule so they are constantly shifting and moving around in between songs. 

Their use of expression was also strictly in the singing. There was limited movement in songs, which for me, would be very difficult to do. And all of their pieces were acapella, which is the standard for choir concerts in Stockholm. 

All in all, the choir sang beautifully and their diversity in music selection and complexity was very refreshing. 

I also ended up befriending an older couple sitting next to me and they provided me with a lot of added information about the church, choirs in Stockholm, and their experience in choir. The church was built in the late 19th century (so not that old for Stockholm). The members of the choir are not members of the church itself. And churches in Stockholm are used more for choral concerts than for the church services themselves. 

The couple then walked with me through the streets of this part of Stockholm and helped lead me to my next destination. We talked about golf and places they have been in the states. One place in particular was Las Vegas. The wife had been there for work once before and it was comedic to hear her impressions of the crazy Americans with the big drinks in their hand on the sidewalk. I explained to her the phrase, "What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas", and she understood immediately why it was so. I also explained to her that I had been that crazy American and her husband had a good chuckle about that. They were an incredibly friendly couple and I am so glad I asked "Talar du Engelska" (Do you speak English) to strike up a conversation!

After bidding adieu to the couple, I was on my way to get some dinner in Gamla Stan (Old Town Stockholm). I found a little Italian bistro along the cobblestone streets and was warmly greeted at the entrance. I sat at the table and was immediately given a wine list. These people know me SO WELL! I ordered a delicious red wine with a bottle of still water. Looking at the menu it was evident of the Swedish influences in these Italian dishes. Meats were mainly veal, venison, and duck. I ordered the la carbonara and it was delicious! It had a different taste than the usual carbonara that I eat. They used a lot more pepper and the sauce was almost a light brown color. And instead of using bacon, they use pork cheek, which is just a stiffer bacon with a much richer flavor. It's also incredibly filling.

During my meal I was asked by my server if I was an American and he asked what I was doing in Stockholm and where in America I was from. He was very surprised to know that I had traveled so far from Seattle. And then to my surprise a younger couple sitting next to me asked me if I knew anyone that worked at Boeing. It was definitely the most unexpected question I have been asked in Europe. Turns out the man is obsessed with airplanes and knows everything about Boeing. He was so excited to know that I knew a handful of people and he was super jealous, which I found to be quite humorous. 

After dinner, which went longer than I was expecting, I walked over to the center of Stockholm to try and attend another concert under the direction of Waldenby. Unfortunately I was about 5 minutes late and they had already closed and locked the doors of the church. I was bummed but at least I got to see a little of what that side of Stockholm had to offer. 

I found my way back through subways and the bus and was at the Graden household around 7:30 that evening.  I was then informed by Maria, Gary's wife, that the concert featuring the Swedish Radio Choir and other famous Swedish singers was broadcasting on TV that evening. We sat in front of the TV and I listened to some of the most talented singers. And the Swedish Symphony was perfection. They performed everything from Sondheim to Brahms. It was a beautiful program and it made me even more bummed that I missed attending the dress rehearsal for that very concert. 

After watching most of the concert I headed to bed after a fun day of exploring Stockholm on my own.

Sunday - January 10th

This was the day I was most looking forward to happening on this trip in Stockholm. I was going to get to meet some incredible singers that sing in great choirs and get to sing along with them in a small ensemble for a Lutheran church service and Stockhom Cathedral. Gary and I left to catch the bus at 8:25 in the morning. We got to the church a little earlier than the rest of the choir and Gary sat down with me and went through some of the pieces to help me pick out the tone he wanted that would best blend with the group I would be singing with.

It was a group of 10 of us and wow are they gifted. They got the music and looked at it for the first time in this rehearsal and I was so pleased to see how well they sight read. Everyone got the songs perfect after running through the pieces twice. And we found a blend so quickly that truly filled the church. I was in awe knowing that I was sitting here singing with these people. I knew I would never have this feeling about anything else again,  so I savored every moment.

The service started at 11:00 and we were all matching in burgundy robes. We processed in behind the pastors and the ushers and took our seat behind the communion table. The hymnals were very small and I wasn't even thinking about the language until I opened the hymnal to sing our first hymn and saw 4 verses in Swedish. One of the singers sitting next to me leaned over and said, "Good luck!" That's definitely what I was going to need. But I was surprised at how fast I picked up on reading the pronunciation of the Swedish. No better way to learn than to just get thrown into singing and speaking it throughout a whole service. I couldn't help but feel proud for being able to follow through the whole service. The singing and service went beautifully and the pastor told Gary afterwards that the choir was especially exquisite that morning. What an honor to receive such a high compliment. 

After the service and making some amazing connections, Gary treated me to pizza in Old Town, and it was AMAZING!!! There is nothing like European pizza! And afterwards when we were checking out instead of mints for guests, there were gummy bears! It was pure magic!

After lunch we went back to the house and I took a nap so that I could watch the Seahawks Wild Card game later that evening. Luckily my family was all together at my Dad's and I was able to FaceTime in and watch the game from their phone. It made me feel like I was there!

And now I am ready for my next journey in Cologne! Thank you all for reading! Keep you all posted!!


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