Postcard from Sweden Tour

Dear SFGC Family, Hello again! Our SFGC tour took us back West for a second performance collaboration in Lund, Sweden. We traveled from Tallinn by boat to Helsinki, where we took a bus to a plane to Copenhagen, and from there a train to Lund. It was such an intense day of travel we could barely cope(nhagen). We arrived in Lund on the Swedish celebration of the summer solstice, Midsummer. Midsummer is the longest day of the year, and is celebrated with all-night picnics and outdoor parties like New Year’s Eve and the Fourth of July all rolled into one. We got to celebrate with our hosts by dancing around the maypole, singing traditional songs, and making beautiful flower crowns.


We had the opportunity to learn about the long and fascinating history of Lund and its surrounding region on a bus tour. We saw (and sang in) beautiful churches, walked through old graveyards, and saw a pagan ruin called Ales Sten, a circle of stones on the Baltic Seashore surrounding an ancient sacrificial altar. Witches, according to legend, used to practice there. We paid homage to the witches through an informal performance of Meredith Monk's Panda Chant around their altar.


We had a wonderful time (again!) in Lund. It was incredible to work alongside talented musicians like Koritsia, our host choir in Lund. Koritsia is a choir for girls separated into age-specific levels, starting at age nine. There are normally around thirty-five girls in the top level, with which we sang, but only around half were there due to summer holidays.

The director of Koritsia, Karin Fagius, teaches over two hundred girls to sing each year. Her choirs are open to any girl, without audition, and she says she helps every chorister find her own voice. This care is apparent in Koritsia's vocal strength. The forty-six of us were amazed by the huge sound that Koritsia produced in such small numbers!

Koritsia is part of the Lund School of the Arts, an art conservatory free to all children. It has all sorts of disciplines available, including dance, visual art, and poetry. The headmaster of the school, Håkan Carlsson, stressed the importance of an art education when discussing the school with me. He described a boy he knew who didn't go to the school. The boy wrote pages and pages planning to write a novel, but never finished it. Håkan said that, with proper guidance from a teacher, this boy would have been able to complete his project. Institutions like the Lund School of the Arts are essential, he went on to say, because he believes it can be difficult to achieve a fully-rounded art education in a regular school.

The school's founder, John Fernstroem, shared that view. He founded the School of the Arts in 1914, as an all-girls music school (other disciplines were added later on in the century). This was unusual for the time, since back then women were generally not encouraged to be educated. To emphasize the abilities of women, the school is decorated with statues and stained-glass windows of powerful Swedish women throughout history, like Holy Brigit, a Swedish saint.

Today, the school teaches many young artists and is home to the Nordic Youth Orchestra, a two-week summer music intensive program for musicians aged sixteen to twenty-five, conducted this year by Fredrik Burstedt. I believe their hard work and beautiful musicianship would have made the founder of the school proud.

John Fernstroem, besides founding the Lund School of the Arts, was also a prolific composer in his day. His music was often played during his life, but after he passed away his writings became more obscure. According to Håkan, this was because his style was more old-fashioned than was in vogue in the sixties. His widow, who lived to be one hundred and four years old, fought hard to keep his music alive.

We had the chance to honor her commitment by singing one of his Concertino for flute solo, orchestra and chorus, with Koritsia and the Nordic Youth Orchestra. Its lyrics are a Swedish translation of the poem “Early Moon,” by American writer Carl Sandburg, who, incidentally, had Swedish parents. It describes an observer's visions of Native Americans in the Mississippi Valley.


We had a lot of fun performing a piece with so many Swedish-American connections. It was challenging to pronounce the Swedish, but both Koritsia choristers and the director of the orchestra helped and encouraged us in our attempts!

We had only three rehearsals with the orchestra, but Frederik said he was happy with how smoothly the chorus and the orchestra worked together. One of the things he loves about directing, in fact, is that he never knows exactly what will happen. This seamless partnership between our two previously separate groups was a pleasant surprise!

This fun and exciting performance marked the end to our collaborative concerts. However, we're excited for our next stop - a solo concert in Stockholm, one more opportunity to keep polishing our group's sound.

This is my last blog, so I'll just say that this tour has been life-changing for all of us, and I'm happy to have given you a small taste of it.

See you back in San Francisco,

Leah Ofman