While I wouldn’t go for all-out blasphemy and compare my blog with a certain important religious leader, it is an interesting coincidence that I would publish my first blog post in over three months on Easter Monday…
There are a few different reasons behind my extended absence from this blog, but the main one is that I have simply been too busy to take the time to sit down and write an interesting post. I would rather not post anything for a period, than to publish new posts simply to keep the blog going. Back around New Year’s, I thought about allowing myself a little time away from the blog in January, but soon enough I ended up with so much work that I kept postponing a new blog post.
Also, I was away on vacation for the latter half of February with my fiancée. (Me going on an actual vacation is rare almost to puffin standards.) As soon as we came back home, I had to immediately get back to work. All of March and the Holy Week was essentially a six-week-long work relay, with different projects replacing each other back to back. That effectively meant constant overlaps, as I had to start preparing for the next project while working on or finishing the current one.
Holy Week was the final stretch of my work marathon, culminating in my taking part in three different services on Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday, respectively. Making matters even more intense is that I left for the city of Kalmar in south-eastern Sweden last Wednesday with a stopover in Stockholm, arriving in Kalmar on Thursday afternoon to rehearse Johann Sebastian Bach’s cantata Actus Tragicus, or Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit (”The time of God is the best of times”) ahead of a music service the next day.
A dear friend of mine who works as a church musician in a parish just outside Kalmar had hired me as a soloist in the Bach cantata. I have sung it once before, in Härnösand, as a tenor soloist and choir member, but this time I was engaged as a baritone soloist! Not only that, but they were going to perform it two semitones lower than usual, making the already uncomfortably low tessitura even worse. I think I did a good enough job moonlighting as a baritone (I had to pull out as many overtones as I could to compensate for my lack of volume. I felt it strain my voice more than the tenor part would have, however.
The main draw of this particular engagement was the opportunity to work with my dear friend Ida again, whom I got to know back in music college and have stayed in touch with since. She is an inspiring and engaging musician to work with, passionate and dedicated in a way that I admire.
I spent most of the next day going back from Kalmar to Härnösand by way of three different trains. My first change was in Alvesta, an important railway junction but otherwise a fairly unknown little town in southern Sweden, where I had a little over an hour between trains. Desperately wanting a nice coffee and a place to relax for a bit, I went looking for a coffee place. Imagine my surprise when I, only two minutes away from the train station, stumbled upon one of the nicest cafés I have been to in recent memory – in Alvesta of all places.
Café St. Clair is owned and run by Emanuel and Masumi, a couple who seemed to have started the place some 10 years ago (judging by the recent-looking ten-year-anniversary poster they had up on one wall) and appeared to have carved out a stable niche of their own. I kept wondering how a small independent place like that could survive in such a small, backwater town (I am putting my biases on full display here), but I am tremendously happy that it does, because dear me what an oasis of tranquility and good taste it was.
Honestly, I’d argue it is worth going to Alvesta just to visit Café St. Clair if you live in the vicinity or are passing by. Personally, I will definitely make sure I go there again as soon as I have an opportunity. The almond and buttercream cake I had was full of flavour and perfectly sweet – just enough to not compete with the almond base or feel overbearing. Also, I bought a sandwich with gorgonzola cheese and fig jam to go, which almost made me cry a little (with joy) when I ate it on the next train.
After an eleven-hour trip (sic!) I was back in Härnösand, just in time for rehearsals for the Easter Vigil in Härnösand Cathedral where I was engaged to sing in a quartet a number of a cappella pieces, including a motet of mine: Ta i nåd emot mina ord (”May these words of my mouth”, from Psalms 19:14). I really love singing in small ensembles like this, where the intimacy and immediacy not only allows you but requires you to focus and communicate with each other in a way that larger ensembles let you get away with much more.
Following a few short hours of sleep at my in-laws’ place, I returned once more to Härnösand Cathedral to conduct the cathedral choir in the Easter Sunday service. After substituting for the permanent conductor several times over the past couple of years, I was engaged as the deputy conductor for this entire semester and this was the first service where I was allowed some leeway in picking the music to be sung. I particularly enjoyed coupling the evocative setting of Surrexit Christus by late Estonian composer Urmas Sisask with Benny Andersson’s (formerly of ABBA) beautiful hymn Kärlekens tid. Neither are typical for the choir’s usual repertoire, but I believe both the singers and the congregation appreciated my choices (although one or two parishioners may have thought Sisask a little too daring).
April will be a much less hectic month than March, and May even less so. I look forward to getting some composing done again as my work life calms back down. There is plenty of work left to do on the house as well. But, all in good time. I will keep you posted, dear reader.