Our Last Postcard from Sweden Tour
Dear SFGC Family, We have completed our journey. This will be our last Postcard from tour!
When we arrived in Stockholm, we were given the incredible opportunity to visit the Swedish Royal Palace in Gamla Stan (Stockholm’s Old Town). Nicodemus Tessin built the Baroque-style building during the 18th Century, although the site it’s built on has been home to Swedish royalty since the 1200’s.
After our guided tour, we performed a part of “Forest” from Lisa Bielawa’s opera Vireo right out front of the palace’s public entrance. As we sang, I thought about how much history is rooted in the palace. In the United States, we consider something built in the 1700’s to be almost ancient, but in comparison to the rest of the world our country is incredibly young. And, although it’s amazing to sing in a place with such a long story, the opulence of the palace highlighted historical inequalities that persist today. The palace’s grandeur awed me, but it is troublesome to see gold-plated furniture inside the palace and homeless people on the streets outside, just as we've grown accustomed to in urban San Francisco.
That evening we rehearsed in the beautiful Maria Magdalena Church, where our concert was to be held on Wednesday the 24th. Like the palace, the church has a long and complex history, dating back to as early as 1350. Although I myself am not religious, I found it moving to be in another place with so much history. When I go to modern churches in San Francisco, I often feel a little uncomfortable, like I’m somewhere I don’t belong. But at Maria Magdalena, I was welcomed with the smell of old books and the feeling that thousands of people had walked through the doors before me. Over the years, the building has been rebuilt many times. The current rendition is designed by Nicodemus Tessin, the same architect who designed the palace. The dome-shaped interior gives a warm and ringy acoustic, accentuating our strong sound. In addition to repertoire from our previous tour concerts—such as Meredith Monk’s experimental Panda Chant and Amy Beach’s turn-of-the-century Three Browning Songs—we sang “Hymn” from Lou Harrison’s Mass for St. Cecilia’s Day. These three American composers differ in style and time period, but share an incredible talent for composing unique, out-of-the-box pieces.
Towards the end of our Stockholm concert, Lisa Bielawa joined us onstage for “Forest” in a duet with chorister Emma Mackenzie.
Their clear voices blended together perfectly, a high B echoing throughout the church. It’s incredible to see multiple generations of SFGC choristers performing something born partly out of the education received here! This heart-wrenching piece of music, written for the current chorus by an alum, reminds me how much we choristers are capable of creating. Growing up in San Francisco, I have always been immersed in communities that celebrate feminism and many of its mantras. But this moment in Stockholm gave me more strength and pride as a woman than I’ve ever felt, even inside my San Francisco bubble.
Looking back on the past two weeks, we have learned just as much about ourselves as we have other cultures. Each piece brought us closer and closer to our audience; our music allowed us to communicate across the language barrier. At this final concert in Stockholm, the audience was lively and kind. They came out just to see us, since we were not collaborating with any chorus or ensemble. It’s humbling that strangers living halfway around the world came to hear us sing.
After nine years, this was my last concert with the San Francisco Girl’s Chorus. Over the years I’ve been given the opportunity to sing for Gavin Newsom, Nancy Pelosi, Philip Glass, Paul Simon, and many more. But none of these performances will mean as much to me as our final concert at Maria Magdalena. There were no famous politicians or musicians, just ordinary strangers who were somehow touched by our music. This music has formed a web across the world, helped us grow as people and musicians, and allowed us to share parts of ourselves we don’t yet have the words for.