I’ve been spending this week in Århus, Denmark with Cantus Aeterna, a project by “Ung Kirkesang”, the Norwegian organisation for sustaining and promoting chamber/church-music-activities among youth. The idea behind the choir is to be the representational choir of Ung Kirkesang, consisting of young’ish singers from all over Norway. I’ve felt very fortunate to have had the opportunity to be a member of the choir since it’s conception in 2005. Sadly Århus will be Cantus’ last appearance for quite a while, as the project is being put on hold for now. It’s been a good five years. A very good five years. Alas, it turns out that a lot of 16 – 25 year olds lead quite busy lives. Committing a year in advance to being in a specific city at a specific time while studying full time is not easy, so the choir is now in an hiatus.
But this post isn’t about the choir not being in the future. This post is about the choir being now. In Århus.
On Tuesday we set off at silly o’clock to take a bus at 5 from Oslo. We travelled with Uranienborg Vokalensemble, who are waiting at the sides of the stage that is this blog-post, eager for their cue to become part of the story a little later. It was a long and mostly uneventful bus-ride with some appreciated help from a passing ferry to get us over the big blue wet stuff separating Denmark and Norway.
This might be an appropriate time to mention what we were actually doing in Denmark. Cantus Aeterna had been invited to the Nordic Choir and Cultural festival in Århus. We had the honour of representing Norway, and along with us there were youth-choirs from Finland, Denmark and Sweden. The whole thing took place in and around “Musikhuset” in Århus.
Having arrived in Århus without as much as a-minor accident (har har, choir humour) we were shown to our accommodation; a small to medium-sized gym-hall at a local primary-school. For those of you who have never slept in a gym-hall, it’s great! There was loads of space on the hard floor for all 17 of us, and the acoustics are so good that if someone happens to be telling a funny joke to someone right next to them at 2am, it echoes throughout the room for all to hear. The layout chosen by the school for the space was very contemporary. The hall had a very spacious feel about it, something which was contributed to by the minimalist approach to interior-design and a very modern high ceiling. We could tell right away that this was going to be a luxurious stay in Denmark for us.
As soon as everyone had found themselves a nice spot on the floor to dump their stuff on and otherwise settled in, it was time for us to earn our keep. That night was to have an opening-concert, and all the youth-choirs were to sing a number at it. The concert was held in a hall with great acoustics. Apparently the greatest acoustics in Denmark or Scandinavia or Europe or something. The woman speaking about it was speaking a strange Danish language I, as a Norwegian, am apparently expected to understand. Despite my best, principle-driven efforts not to understand, I couldn’t help catching a few tidbits here and there. One of them was that we were not, under any circumstances, allowed to bring bottles of water into the concert-hall. It would seem that water is the greatest enemy of acoustics.
No water might not seem like that big of a deal, but when the temperature is high, the weather is humid, the hall is under-ventilated (after all, the sound of air-condition would completely make the the great acoustics of the hall go to waste!), and one has to sit on the stage in warm fancy clothes, water becomes quite an attractive commodity. I’ll admit, I was lucky. I only had to wear black suit-trousers and a white shirt. The girls wore the Norwegian national dress, the Bunad, which can probably be described as a very nice-looking complicated arrangement of pieces of wool.
I should probably explain why this temporary drought bothered me this much. Before the actual singing part we had to sit around on the stage for quite a while with everyone watching us. While the audience were probably giving the girls in their bunads most of their attention, the warm bright lights were happy to beam upon all of us with equal vigour and force. Combined with a lack of sleep and the knowledge that I didn’t have access to water, this made me quite dizzy. While singing I found myself spending a lot of energy on trying not to fall over, probably overcompensating in form of smiling in a “nothing wrong here, move along” kind of way. At one point some light-guy decided to dim the lights on the audience, and at that moment I really thought I was fainting. Speaking to the others afterwards, I wasn’t the only one who mistook the dimming for a “good night, I’m going to sleep now” message from their brain. Despite this we seem to have done the singing thing rather well. We were given compliments on the performance, and other conductors were asking where they could get the sheet-music.
The opening concert as a whole was also quite a success. The Danish/English “toastmaster” brilliantly balanced the task of being formal with being funny. You will have forgotten it by now, but the title of this post, “Welcome to OurHouse”, is based on his observation that the Irish voices of the Ryan Air stewardesses sound like they are saying “Welcome to Our House” when welcoming their valued, and indeed valuable, passengers to Århus. The other choirs from Finland, Sweden and Denmark were also very good, so all in all, after I had sat down in the hall, the rest of the evening was actually rather enjoyable. I should add for the record, the acoustics in the symphonic hall were very good and fun to sing in. I hope you will excuse my bitterness about the whole water-thing.
This post is getting very lengthy, so I am cutting it off here. Tune in some time in the near future for part two, in which Finnish is sung, pink is worn, food is eaten and the weather turns vicious.
All photos in the post are taken by Jacob Mathiasen.