I’ve had the pleasure of working with the Härnösand Cathedral Choir since January as their temporary leader. I have assisted their principal leader off and on over the past couple of years as a substitute conductor, but this meant being able to work continuously with the choir over an entire semester.
The ”grand finale” of the semester will be our concert on Sunday June 4th where the choir will perform together with organist Per Brudsten and violinists Ronnie and Ellinor Weber. Picking pieces for that programme was fun and exciting but also frustrating, as I ended up with far too many pieces I wanted to include and had to really cut the programme down to a manageable size.
That process involves considering several different aspects. There is of course the artistic and practical aspects; putting together a cohesive, interesting programme which also doesn’t overburden or push the choir beyond what they are able to learn sufficiently well in the amount of time we have. Preferably, I would also like to choose pieces that allow the choir to develop certain skills further.
Articulation, for example, is one aspect that is too often overlooked, to the detriment of the music and, ultimately, at the audience’s expense, as the text might end up unintelligible. So, I picked Arvo Pärt’s Bogoróditse Djévo: a sprightly and fun piece, with simple enough harmonies and part-writing that allow the singers to really focus on enunciating every syllable clearly. Sloppy enunciation makes this piece fall apart, as the rhythmic-lyric aspect of the pieces, so I think it works well as a sort of articulation etude.
Artistically, I wanted to move slightly out of the choir’s comfort zone, without causing panic (or inspiring mutiny!). As a composer myself, I also would like to promote living composers, if possible. Therefore I am particularly happy that we are performing Emmy Lindström’s delightful På ängarna doft av violer, commissioned by the Swedish Radio Choir. Also, something like Bror Samuelson’s Hugsvala mitt hjärta – a three-part setting of an old folk melody – is sufficiently near to the choir’s familiar national romantic repertoire, while expanding it with a slightly different sound and character than they are used to.
I have had a few choirs of my own in the past, most recently the Kramfors-based women’s choir Svanökören. I also led various ensembles as a student, on both temporary and regular bases. Additionally, I have been singing regularly in various different choirs on different levels since I was ten. However, I have fairly limited formal training as a leader or conductor. I have taken masterclasses for various experienced choral conductors as well as a handful of private lessons, but mostly I have been learning on the job.
In spite of my lacking academic merits, I find ways to play to my strengths – a well-developed ear; a combination of precision and persistence; extensive experience as a singer myself; and the combined perspectives of a conductor-singer-composer – to help the choir grow both as a unified body and as a group of individuals. This in turn pushes and inspires me to be even better, to keep learning and honing my skills. Our upcoming concert will be a milestone for myself, but also, I hope, for the choir.
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