Jun 29, 2014

Ulvön in my heart

I have this memory. I am sitting with my dads family in a restaurant-like room flooded with light. The windows are tall, covering the wall facing the sea. On the water sailboats, the sails in different beautiful colors. I think it is a regatta. We are celebrating my grandmothers birthday. I loved being in that room. I loved the sailboats, the light. I don’t know what age I was, but I’m sure I was dressed up.

When I was a girl my uncle and aunt and my cousin Kerstin lived on this island in the Bothnian Bay, Ulvön. It’s located at Höga kusten (The High Coast) which is now a World Heritage Site. It’s one of the prettiest charming places I know, and visiting cousin Kerstin was always an adventure. My uncle and aunt ran the general store on the island, and taking the ferry to Ulvön, arriving in Ulvöhamn I was filled with anticipations and my eyes were soaking the beauty and charm of this very special place. The funny thing is, I don’t really remember a lot from our stays. Except for that one time when I was 12 and fell down from a concrete gatepost and broke my right ankle.

This weekend I have been back at Ulvön. Together with my eight cousins on my fathers side, their spouses, nine of our children and in some cases girlfriends, boyfriend and wife. All together 29 people. The nine cousins all have childhood memories from Ulvön. And this weekend we have created new memories together and passed Ulvön over to our families.

Winter 2013 the cousins said goodbye to two loved uncles and fathers. That became the start for a first family reunion. We met on Midsummers Day a year ago at our grandparents house, the cradle for our fathers and mothers. And on that day we started fantasizing about coming together at Ulvön this summer. And how I love when fantasies become real!

Right before Christmas we agreed on a date that would actually work for all of us! Then Kerstin, our Ulvö native has spent the winter and spring doing an amazing job organizing accommodation, menus and ferry schedules, and all the rest of us had to do was just tagging along and wait for the big weekend to come. What a treat!

I have loved that this was happening. Although I had no idea if I would be able to make it myself. All I could do was hoping for the best. I just got back. Landed on my couch. Exhausted and my body upset and aching. I am so tired I can’t really write. I am writing anyway. 

I can’t believe that we all actually made it out there! And I got to pass Ulvön over to Trouble 1 and Fay, Trouble 2 and Audrey, and they got to meet most of their relatives on their Grandpa Martin’s side. People were strolling the harbor street, taking hikes up the mountain, had a fika or a beer, visited the little church and finally in the evening we all had a three course dinner at Ulvö hotell where we all stayed.

My body wasn’t very cooperative. I made it there, but I couldn’t stroll the harbor street looking for that concrete gatepost as I had hoped. I had to lie down for most of the time. But I hade a wonderful room with a little balcony and a gorgeous view of the bay, the sun shining in on my bed. I was lying there watching the flag flying in the wind on it’s pole, listening to my relatives on the porch right inunder being loud, having fun. I was sad I couldn’t join them in the afternoon sun, but I enjoyed listening to them floating in and out of a dreamy sleep.

I did join them though for the three course dinner! My body was protesting loudly but I didn’t let it win, mind over matter. And I am so glad I could do that. The food was delicious, the wine fine, and the company of course, the best. I am incredibly grateful and happy about my eight cousins and my father’s family who I am now reconnected with, it is such a gift.

On our ferry arrival to Ulvön we passed Graneliden, a beautiful lodge at the water. I watched the tall windows and the memory of my grandmother’s birthday came up from somewhere deep inside. That must have been the place! Or did I make that whole thing up? Today, on the ferry taking us back to the mainland, cousin Kerstin talked about the time when her parents ran the general store as well as Graneliden. So maybe I didn’t make the birthday party up? I asked around. No one else remembered. So we called my aunt Barbro, the only one left of my dad’s siblings. Did we at some point celebrate grandma at Graneliden? 

It turned out we probably did! I hadn’t made that light flooded room up, nor the colorful sails on the water! When did this happen? Well, it might have been when she turned 70, which means I would have been nine years old. Memories are magical. You don’t remember, and suddenly you do. Feeling that festive room, I started sensing which dress I was wearing. A white light fabric with small pink rosbuds. Which actually matches the guess that I was nine, my mother made it for my second grade graduation. I am quite amazed that summer family party actually happened, not only in my fantasy.

So, what about the concrete gatepost where I broke my ankle? Well, on my ride back to the ferry through Ulvöhamn, I looked for them. And there they were! Exactly as I remembered them! So, not only did I have an amazing family reunion with my father’s relatives this weekend, I also confirmed a vague but beautiful memory from the same family about 50 years ago, and I completed the misson to find that damned gatepost that put my right arm in a cast! What a weekend! 

Jun 22, 2014

A Choral Midsummer Light's Dream, a true story

It is 41F (5°C), poring down outside and I am tired, overwhelmed, grateful and very happy. I wouldn’t be surprised if this has been the coldest Midsummers since the measurements started, but the passion and joy from 800 choral singers invading Umeå during the Midsummer week has made the week one of the warmest ever.

During the years working on making A Choral Midsummer Light’s Dream - Umeå International Festival come true, I had pictured myself running around town being a part of concerts, workshops, impromptu musical meetings and late night hang outs. Even this last bedridden winter I saw myself being on my feet in time for the festival, anything else would just be too damned sad.

Well. My condition is not as bad as it was this winter and spring. I am a bit better. But just a bit. Running around town is not happening. And the festival week was coming up, me still spending most of my part on my couch. It sucked.

There were five slots in the festival schedule though marked red in my calendar. Which I hoped and wished for. Every member of Sångkraft Chamber Choir (Kammarkören Sångkraft) who has been arranging the festival and which I am a member of, had different assignments for the week. My job was to MC the White Night Concerts together with my alto colleague and friend Agneta and my sister Kia who used to be a Sångkraft soprano. And then there was the Sångkraft main concert  which I so badly desired to sing. And the final concert, the closing of the festival: the Grand  Premiere Concert which I would both MC and sing.

Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday were filled with Bright Light Concerts and On Site Concerts, and in the evening we wrapped the day up with a late concert, the White Night Concerts, featuring excellent vocal ensembles from different European countries. This would be the peak performance of the day. And it was. Even so for me. From my couch I would rise, put something nice on and enter the spotlight on high heels. 

Agneta and Kia are teaching foreign languages as their profession. Our idea was to present the concerts in four languages: Swedish, English, German and French. To make every nationality feel welcome and respected. We didn’t cover Latvian, Estonian and Icelandic unfortunately, but maybe it was a good thing, the concerts would have been way too long if so.

Our intention was to create a warm and welcoming feeling, to be informative and professional and to look good. Yes, you heard me right. This was an opportunity to dive into our closets, spread everything out on my bed, look for different themes, try on, match with shoes and… have fun. Boy, were we having fun! 

Tuesday morning I woke up with a very specific and scary pain in my lower back. Shit! Why? Always that big WHY? Why can’t I just be allowed to do what I have planned to do and enjoy it??? Just for once!

I have a choice. To give in and stay on my couch or to mobilize myself and everyone I can think of to help me live my life, the best way possible.

Audrey was my dresser, putting on the different outfits and jewelry for each day. Kia, Agneta and members of Sångkraft have been helping me up from and down on the folded bed I have been lying on back stage inbetween our appearances in the spotlight. And without Mimmi there is no way I could have been a part of the festival at all. 

Mimmi is a friend from my teens who has come back into my life recently. Mimmi and her cool and wonderful 16-year old daughter has picked me up every day, been at my side during the events, dropped me off in the late white night, undressed the outfit for the evening and tucked me in on my couch. They have been dragging my folded bed and loads of pillows and bags with necessities back and forth from here at the end of the road and the back stages of downtown Umeå. They have taken care of all the logistics and given me the chance to focus on my MC scripts and making a good looking entrance on stage. I don’t have words for what Mimmi and her daughter has done for me this week.

Three nights. Three concerts. The first one in off white tones, the second colorful solids, and the last one midsummer flowers on white. Yes, we did look good. And we acted professional. And we had fun. Most of all we had so much fun!

The Sångkraft main concert was the toughest one for me. Standing singing was extremely hard. In bed later I really didn’t think I could do the grand finale yesterday. But I did. A final MC and the premiere of Lux Arctica, a piece composed on commission for the festival and performed by 200 choral singers. And the fact that I could even hang out at the festival hotel bar with euphoric choral singers from all over Europe a couple of late nights makes me feel like I really was a part of the festival after all.

Now, this was my introspective story about A Choral Midsummer Light’s Dream - Umeå International Choir Festival. There is a different one, the one with the birds eye-view. The one telling about 800 singers, 34 choirs from 10 different countries making Umeå sing for five 24-7 days. The one about a dream coming remarkably true and fulfilled in most every detail. The one about Sångkraft, this afternoon sharing laughs and tears of joy and gratefulness over what we achieved and experienced together this Midsummer week. The story about making choir history, for ourselves, for Umeå, and for our guests from other parts of Sweden. And France, Germany, Lativa, Estonia, Belarus, Iceland England, U.S and Canada. The story about A Choral Midsummer Light’s Dream. 

Jun 15, 2014

A Choral Dream about to come true

It’s happening! It’s unreal, but it’s happening!

I am a choral singer, I’ve been singing in choirs most my life, and the greater deal in Kammarkören Sångkraft, Sångkraft Chamber Choir. In the late eighties me and my friend Pälle, a tenor in Sångkraft, started planning on an international choir festival in Umeå. Umeå is a festival city. At that time the Jazz Festival, the Chamber Music Festival and the Folk Festival. Our idea was that Umeå was lacking a choir festival.

We also had a very clear idea of what kind of festival we wanted to create. Our experience from visiting festivals in Europe was that the bigger ones with a lot of choirs spread out over a large area wasn’t as fun as the tighter ones where you constantly ran in to each other. We wanted a warm and welcoming festival offering high quality choral music.

1989 Pälle and I walked in to the City Cultural Department with a hand written document in a bender. The head of the Umeå Festivals listened to us for a good while, really liked the idea and said Go! Only, he didn’t give us any money. I still remember the weird and uncomfortable feeling standing on the winter side walk afterwards. Kind of loved and rejected at the same time. There was no way Sångkraft could make the festival happen on a volunteer basis, and the plans for an international choir festival in Umeå was filed in the far back of my private book shelf.

Time passed, I took a 16 year sabbatical from singing and on my return 2009 a couple of people were toying the idea of a festival again. More festivals around Europe had been visited over the years and the impression was the same as during the eighties: if you don’t get to share and connect you are loosing the very idea of a festival. Once again we knew what we wanted to do and create.

Umeå is still and even more so a festival city, extended with several pop and rock festivals and MADE, the international, eclectic festival for performing arts at NorrlandsOperan, the Umeå opera house. But the timing was different than in the late eighties: Umeå was elected the European Capital of Culture 2014!

At the time a group of 6-7 people in Sångkraft started fantasizing about an international choir festival, the year for the Capital of Culture was pretty much empty. Umeå had won the title but didn't have much to fill the title with. After pitching the idea to the choir, them buying it, we were quite fast on formulating a concept, making a preliminary budget and presenting it to the City. 

While other cultural players in Umeå have been fighting hard with very little result in the Capital of Culture process, the Sångkraft Chamber Choir choir festival concept and budget was approved at an early stage. The fantasy was suddenly real and the choir was facing something we had no practical experience from. Enchantment was mixed with fear as we were up to the evidence, high expectations from the Capital of Culture has been a pretty heavy load on our inexperienced shoulders.  

So, the concept was a given. And the time of the year for the festival too. We wanted to attract singers from the world with the most exotic feature of northern Sweden: the Midsummer light!

During a dinner at a summer glass porch we came up with the given name: A Choral Midsummer Light’s Dream. Added with the subheading Umeå International Choir Festival. Perfect, it was perfect! Trouble 1, actually, is the artist behind the logotype, and we created a visual identity transferring the early summer shimmering greenery and light in our minds, into a picture.

Hundreds, thousands of work hours later, Sångkraft Chamber Choir is now at the home stretch fore the start of the historic first international choir festival in Umeå. On Monday the first choirs will be arriving and on Tuesday A Choral Midsummer Light’s Dream will be inaugurated, continuing until Saturday. 34 vocal ensembles from 8 countries, altogether about 800 singers, will make Umeå sing 24-7 for the next week!

Every Sångkraft member will have a special assignment: hosts for visiting choirs, office duty, coordinating the parade for the inauguration, work shop hosts, MC-ing concerts, drive the bus to the airport, selling tickets, picking the flowers for the May pole, bus hosts, at the door concert service a s o, a s o, a s o… 

Malls, out door stages, churches and concert halls will be the scene for the vision a group of just a few imagined five years ago. Even what Pälle and I were planning 25 years ago! Connecting and sharing in music and in person. Finishing the festival with a traditional Midsummers celebration on Midsummer’s Eve, and a grand finale on Midsummer’s Day premiering Lux Arcticas, a piece composed on commission for A Choral Midsummer Light’s Dream, performed by hundreds of singers.

Are we excited? Yes we are! Are we scared? Not any more. Can we do this, yes we can, let’s go!!!

Jun 8, 2014

Apple Tree 2.0

To be sitting in the sun under my blossoming apple tree. While bees singing there swirling song above my head.

My grandfather planted six apple trees in the thirties. He was a creative man who put in hard work for whatever his visions were. When I was a little girl there were still three of grandpa’s trees in the garden in front of the little playhouse. My sister and I used to run in under them while airing the tiny rag rug and the table cloth from the play house on a branch we could reach. The bakers cottage was our summer house and we spent a great deal of the summers here, at the end of the road.

When I moved here and made myself a home in the main house, there was only one of my grandfather’s apple trees left. The tree has grown chasing the sun and following the winds which has made it crummy and out of balance. But it is the jewel of the garden. Shining the most when it’s covered by a cloud of white blossoms, starting to bloom one day and letting go of the first petals the day after. As the summer on the 64th latitude, the moment for joyful bliss is painfully short.

One winter morning some years ago, 2007 I think, I was standing in my bathroom brushing my teeth looking out the window. Seeing a sight I couldn’t take in. My precious apple tree was lying down. A foot of heavy snow had fallen over the night and my apple tree couldn’t take the weight of it. It fell over. It lied down in the same direction it had been growing for about 70 years.

I literary couldn't believe my eyes. I rubbed them. The tree was still lying down. I closed my eyes. Still lying down. I turned around, put the tooth brush away, washed my face. My apple tree was still lying down. A sad rest.

I don’t have words for how much I grieved that tree. And it became a symbol for myself. Life had been heavy on me for a long time, and with the apple tree forced giving up, I felt like I was finally lying down myself.

Spring came, and I could see there was life in my apple tree. Tiny leaves and flower bulbs peering towards the sun. On Trouble 2’s high school graduation day with extended family gathered, we raised the tree up. Dressed up in light summer clothes everybody put their shoulders and hands under the heavy crummy stems, and on a joint “go!” the apple tree left the ground where it had spent the winter.

For a year the tree was supported by wooden crosses on the ground. The leaves came out and the white flowers were found by the bees one more time. My tree looked a bit ragged and tired, but it was standing up again, and there was life in it. I was grateful and very happy.

I started making plans for my beloved apple tree. I was thinking the supporting crosses would be replaced by strong pillars carrying the three crummy stems. And I wanted a deck surrounding the base of the tree. Yes, we were talking a project! 

My back crashed really bad for the first time the following winter, then came cancer and then more back crashes. So now I was lying down finally. As to raise myself up I started project-leading The Comeback of the Apple Tree. Before, it was just an apple tree. Now, it was going to be so much more. Apple tree 2.0.

The deck was going to be round and quite big, kind of the same size as the crown of the tree. A place to sit on a hot day drinking ice tea with friends. The foundation for the deck would be granite, as the foundation for the house. I pictured it gorgeous!

Now, the most important talent for a project leader is pitching the idea and inspire whoever you need to get the job done. In this case my family. How did that go? Well, although they kind of liked the idea they weren’t as attracted to all the work they would need to put in to realize this cool new center piece in the garden. And that was before we found out we needed to cut every curved granite piece in both ends to get the right size of the round deck…

I remember lying on a sun bed summer 2009, bold, tired, nauseous  and with a body aching from chemo, listening to that special stone saw doing it’s job. Then directing the intricate pattern of the round deck taking shape from how the planks were connected to each other. Wouldn’t black be beautiful to the granite? Yes it would. And it is!

The pillars supporting the stem was the next challenge. It turned out it was impossible to make them stand in perfect right angles under the tree. Because the tree is constantly moving, surprise surprise! To me, who like a result as I pictured it, this is really annoying. From one angle of the garden it looks pretty good, but from a different one it seems like someone ended the job half finished. And this, I have to live with! Anyway, the pillars were painted white, quite dashing to the black deck and the granite.

It’s been some years now. There are tiny disco balls hanging in the tree, sending reflections of the sun all over the garden and into the kitchen, winter as summer. I love standing at the sink getting hit by them. Warm and sunny days I am putting cushions on the deck to make it extra welcoming and comfortable. Well, that’s not really true any more as I can’t bend forward, but in my mind I am doing it. And I am serving my special Arnold Palmer made out of licorice tea to anyone who comes through my white picket fence gate. Today my neighbors and cheery friends Jenny and Hannes joined me under the crummy stems, what a treat!

For a couple of brief days now my apple tree is swept in to a cloud of white blossom and bee song. I am sitting in under it soaking the sun, being grateful and happy about my Apple Tree 2.0. Trusting my grandfather watching from somewhere appreciating the creativity and hard work put into saving and upgrading it. Making the vision come true.

Jun 1, 2014

Trying to wrap my head around childhood world scenarios on terrifying rerun

It is scary and very serious. It is nothing but scary and very serious. And I find it almost impossible to wrap my head around.
I am born eleven years after World War Two. I grew up during the Cold War in a skinny neutral country squeezed in between Nato and the Soviet Union. And the sound of the brown shirts and boots marching on the European Continent was still echoing. World War Three was hanging as a brownish-yellow nuclear cloud over us and the horrifying and unreal stories from Germany and Poland were still told and all too real. The Berlin Wall was built, it was cruel and evil times, but the worst of it had passed and there was also an awakened hope for a new and shiny future.
Still, a scenario where the Wall was chopped into fragments and torn down by people with their own hands was impossible. As the Soviet Union falling into pieces. Unthinkable. But it happened. A different world took shape as the buses with people wanting to face history still made their stops at Auschwitz and Treblinka. We would never forget. We would never ever forget.
A week ago there was the election for the European Union. The Union feels distant to a lot of people close to the Polar Circle. Distant in geography but also when it comes to politics. What are they doing down there in Brussels? What has it got to do with us? It costs us a lot of money and do we get anything out of it? Opinions which are understandable although I am not defending them.
Imagine my surprise watching the news this week hearing a French woman in Paris expressing the exact same feeling: “Brussels is so far away, I feel it has very little to do with us.” Therefore she didn't vote. I was stunned I have to say. So, who feels close to the European Union? And, of course it explains the low voters participation most everywhere in Europe.
In the 2010 election for the Swedish parliament the voters participation was 84,63%. The EU election a week ago drew 48.7% to the polls which was more than the average in the Union, 43%. It is still way too low though, only every other Swede found it important to have a say in the EU.
But Sunday evening when it turned out the Sweden Democrats, a nationalistic party with racist and fascist overtones, had done their job very well and won 9,7% of the Swedish vote, I am sure there were Swedes regretting their passivity when it comes to EU. As well as in most of Europe. As the French woman in Paris expressed it in the news story: “In hindsight, I should have voted.” Front National took 25,4% of the French vote.
Because it wasn’t only in Sweden the nationalistic party grabbed a large portion of the vote. It is happening most everywhere, and with much higher numbers, Sweden is thank God still only a little player in this dreadful game. But I would say we are in a bit of a chock. It wasn’t until the Swedish election 2010 we had a nationalistic party in the parliament. Sweden had been the naive innocent thinking it couldn’t happen here. But it did. It did happen.  
During the broadcasted election evening a week ago there were numerous reports from around Europe showing nationalists marching. I am watching it, but I can’t take it in. There is a large number of angry young men without work and memories from what we promised never to forget, acting in frustration. But waiving from the top of the parties are also middle aged blond women who simply should no better. Who’s parents and grand parents are linked to a time when nationalistic, racist and fascist movements caused the most horrifying memory in mankind. Did they forget to tell? How is it possible that these women, mothers and daughters 2014 in the ultimate time of stories, information and communication don’t know better? No, I can’t wrap my head around it.
It might have been in the late nineties. My actor friends Matt and Elizabeth had a couple of actors from Russia staying with them as they visited Seattle for a few days. We were all sitting at their dining room table chatting, when one of the guests asked a question. He was upset. Why was there a statue of Lenin in Seattle? They had been in Fremont during the day, and there is no way missing Lenin while walking through the neighborhood. It is one of those statues shipped all over when Soviet collapsed. It’s big and it’s real.
Fremont is an arty neighborhood, at that time even funky. My friends tried to explain the character of the place and that the statue was a little bit of a joke. The Russian actors didn’t see the fun in a former Soviet Lenin statue in Seattle, and I could understand them.
I am a Swede, and I grew up in Sweden. The little skinny neutral country squeezed in between the former Soviet Union and Nato. At that table that evening I felt the outcome of that. And squeezed in again. I knew about the Lenin statue of course, and to be honest it always made me a bit uncomfortable. I could absolutely understand the humor in it, the joke, looking at it with my Americanized eyes. But that evening at that table I felt the Russian actors pain and emotion, Lenin in Fremont was an upsetting incomprehensibility to them. I could relate to that. I had been living close enough. But that time was over, thanks God.

2014 Vladimir Putin is on a mission to restore the old Russia. There are unsettling things going on not too far from here. Experts say he is probably looking at the Baltic countries too. I see it. I hear it. But I can’t take it in. A war-like situation so close to here hasn’t happened since I was little girl. I have clear pictures of Prag August 21 1968, the frightening reports on the radio breaking up the Swedish late summer greenery. It can’t be for real what’s happening now? But it is. As the brown shirts are, marching in Europe. And I just can’t wrap my head around it.