A postcard I found in Morocco. Caption contest!!!

A postcard I found in Morocco. Caption contest!!!

It is time to play!! I have come to understand how engrained it is in me to approach the things I do with a furrowed brow and a tone of seriousness. I can trace it to early in high school, when a variety of roles were placed on me by my education before I could understand them in myself. It suddenly became a fight to continue showing them what I thought they saw in me to have some sort of identity to cling to. Even through college, I approached my activities with a furrowed brow of seriousness that weighed heavily on the process and surely affected the result. Everything I did had so much significance that I did not know how to get anything done unless it meant huge things. Now I see how that approach weighs me down and prevents me from creating, from finding my natural flow and from letting myself be me. How cheesy it sounds, but it is so true! Now I want a wrinkle-free forehead and I am determined to have awesome outcomes! The TED talk I’ve posted below is part of my process of inspiration to approach life more playfully. I fully believe that play can still produce concrete, quality, innovative and creative products/outcomes. In fact, I think the outcomes will be even better with aspects of play and lightness! It’s a process, I know, so compassion will be key. Here we go!

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It has been way too long since I wrote here, and I take it as a period in which my writing/creative inspiration molded into the darkening tempo of Sweden’s slowly chilling winter. All of November a friend said, “There is a reason why we can’t get anything done: it is November. Just accept it.” I guess it is because the darkness is on its way and the nordic people know that November is when the depression starts taking hold….But, the holiday season has brought about more light and time away from school has given me a chance to remind myself of many important things. Recalibration was necessary.

The beginning of winter was filled with anxiety for preparing for auditions in the spring. I’ve recorded a video audition for San Francisco Conservatory and am doing live auditions in Copenhagen, Oslo, Malmö and Göteborg. This means scales and arpeggios on the piano and deciding the vocal repertoire that represents who I am the most and is also manageable to learn and improve on. Thanks to some good talks with special people, strengthening old relationships and beginning other new exciting relationships, some good runs in the snowy, peaceful forest and some good thinking, the pressure of auditioning has lightened and I am more excited to audition. I am reminding myself that whatever I have right now is what I have to give. I must be honest with myself and know that I can’t do anything more than what I am doing now. It shows in my audition if I have a foundation of joy and love for singing or a foundation of fear and anxiety. I create myself as an artist, and I can choose to nurture whichever foundation I want to, so here we go!

A lot has happened since September, of course. I may write more about that later, but right now I would like to write about some reminders I’ve had over this short holiday break I’ve spent with my grandparents. It has been full of good reminders and a much needed rejuvenation of joy: just joy. My grandparents are both quite old and frail; they need of a lot of help. Being here and helping them has been a bit heavy, but also very enriching. I’m seeing in action how attitude is everything and life can be good even in not-so-happy circumstances. I’m learning the value of taking care of the people you love and a mutual love and appreciation for one another. Being in Sweden and staying with them now has helped me realize that they have been my biggest connection to Sweden and have been my foundation here. Although my mom did plenty of work to keep me connected, it was them who did a lot of the work to keep me fed and joyous in the Swedish summer sunshine (and also the rain). They have always loved and cared for me, appreciating what I do and supporting my dedication to singing, even if my grandpa does not see a connection between a career and studying music. He asks me, “So how does one make money with a degree in music?” He asks very sincerely, but I see how it just does not make sense in his head. He was an engineer in his prime years and is very much a career man. But, all the same, they both are so happy that I am studying music and ask plenty of questions about what I’m singing and how my life at school is. My grandma says that if there was one thing that she had wished for in life, it was a singing voice. So she is so happy that her granddaughter is making use of hers! It is interesting getting to know more of one’s family, because sometimes I see bits of myself in them. I’m now understanding what family means for the first time, beyond my most immediate family. It is one of those things that you don’t know exists until you experience it, but now experiencing more of where I came from makes so much sense. Hanging out with the older crowd is important. Love, respect, and care your for elders, y’all! When you are ready for it, they can teach you a lot!

I’ve also been reminded of how important it is to take time to recharge the batteries and do “nothing.” It has been a long time since I’ve done “nothing,” and this time is as effective as any to process and recalibrate my direction and attitude and connections with myself and others. It is funny how when we’re busy we disconnect. Or at least I do… Although what I have been doing here is not “nothing” with practicing, running, care-taking and catching up tasks we have to do as members of this society, it feels like it is a break just because it is different. Oh how important variation is!

I’ve also been reminded of just how much we need people. This relates to how much my grandparents need people right now to help with everyday tasks, but also to how different people have helped me out of a long funk. If it weren’t for other people (strangers, mothers, fathers, sisters, old friends, new friends, grandmothers, grandfathers, uncles, aunts, cousins, acquaintances), I would have been stuck in a sad brain place of fear for the future instead of celebrating the richness that exists. My point is really simple, but it has really struck home right now! All I mean is that my life would be really sad if I didn’t have other people to be inspired by and to inspire! What is life about more than relationships and exchanges of energy between others?

Now for a little story! The universe is open. That sounds so new-agey but it is so true! A big concern of mine about spending my break with my grandparents was that there is no piano here for me to practice on. I had to practice since my first audition is on January 5th in Copenhagen. Earlier in the semester my voice teacher had mentioned that when she travels, she stops in at churches and asks if she can practice there. So, I went first to the church that is closest to my grandparents’ house, but they were not super helpful. So I went to Domkyrkan, which is one of Götegorgs biggest churches and is in the city center, and asked if they had a piano I would be able to practice on. I explained that I was studying music, staying with my grandparents, and auditioning soon. The groundskeeper said, “Well, you can’t really use the piano here since we like to keep the church open for the public, but there is a meeting house on the other side of town that you can use. It is completely empty for the next couple of weeks and I can just give you a key so you can use it whenever you need to!” And just like that he lent me, a complete stranger and non-church member, the key to this meeting house. As my mother has said for a long time, ask and you shall receive! I am so thankful for how some people trust and want to see others succeed. I really lucked out on this one! The story just gets better, though. When I got off the bus, I looked up at the street sign of the side street that this meeting house is on. It is called Elfrida Andrées Gata. My jaw dropped and I let out a squeal of delight! Elfrida Andrée was Sweden’s first female organist and became the principal organist in Domkyrkan (the same church!) in 1867. I sang two of her songs in my Senior Recital at Oxy in April. This world is so full of coincidences I sometimes don’t know what to think.

So, what I really want to say is that everything will work out. It always does, somehow.

Here’s a good song to listen to, from her last self-produced/financed/recorded/written album! (((I’m not quite sure why it is called “Cherokee,” but I hope it is not just an indie-appropriation of native culture because it sounds cool….)))

And some brain/eye candy that is so true!

Teagan White

Teagan White

It took me a while to write about last week’s workshop because there were a lot of ideas that I wanted to let simmer…Here at Ingesund, we were lucky enough to work with nine talented musicians that are based in Sweden and have a huge range of musical experiences and backgrounds. This project we did is called Borderless Musical Encounter, in which we worked with musicians from Sweden with Swedish/Scandinavian folk, Western European classical, Greek and Haitian musical backgrounds, as well as musicians from Senegal, Canada, and Mexico. The whole idea behind the project was to break down the parallel lives we lead as musicians from various genres to explore what we can create when we put our creativity and various backgrounds together. An acronym often referred to by the project leader, Ale Möller, is PLM: Prestigelöst Lustfyllt Nyfikenhet:  Prestige-less, Pleasurable/Enthusiastic Curiosity. Essentially, have fun and make mistakes! Throughout this project we played/sang a lot of interesting music in a few languages (Swedish, Greek, Creole and Wolof) with awesome melodies, scales and rhythms. We had workshops in percussion, choir, improvisation, Swedish folk music and Greek dance, all leading up to a final big performance.

During this project, we had two large chunks of time in which each guest musician was able to speak about their experiences and how they ended up where they are today. They each had about 20-30 minutes to tell their stories. I loved this! It reminded me of how within each person is a depth we never could have imagined, and also that within each person is a whole, complex world. I learned an important lesson from each of them. Mamadou spoke about having the courage to show yourself…i.e. vulnerability! Such a hard thing to do, but also the essence of being a performing musician, in some ways. Maria, who is born to Greek parents but raised in Sweden, quoted another Swedish-Greek journalist in saying that she is 100% Greek and 100% Swedish–no need to choose! I love this, because I feel that my Swedish identity and US identity are not separate from each other, but instead together make me. I am not more one than the other, but rather both. Rafael reminded me that when making music, each and every note is very important and must have energy and feeling in it. Jonas spoke about the focus on process rather than result, self-value and being enthusiastic for one’s own ideas. Ale spoke about how we all live parallel lives with such interesting people and that we need to reach out more to people! He also spoke about having courage. Just courage. Magnus spoke about the journey to discovering and realizing self truth; trial and error. Sebastien assured us that by seeking what we most enjoy, everything will fall into place. Sten spoke about his love for choral singing. Listening to each of these musicians made me think of the concept of storytelling and how important it is for us to understand one another and to learn the complexities that each of us carry inside. It is important for relationships and connections, and also for role models and to see the creativity in our every day lives and where it can take us. It reminded me, too, that we have just as much to learn as we have to teach, and even these professionals who are so successful are also only human.

The biggest question that this left me with, though, is where are all of the female professional musicians? Out of the nine guest teachers visiting, eight were men and one was a woman. Why was there just one woman in this group to act as my professional role model? When I presented the question to the guests (explaining also how inspired I felt by each of their stories), pointing out all of the female students in the room and then the lack of female professionals in the group, I received an answer that left me disappointed. I heard from them that I was wrong and that there ARE indeed many female professionals in the classical world, but also that women need to catch up, and that there are fewer since women drop out of music on a professional level because they have babies instead. I would like to ask, can men who blame women for not becoming professional musicians make room for women to be their colleagues and stop valuing and defining their worlds by patriarchal masculine standards? Can they then also take on half of taking care of kids so women can too establish themselves professionally?

I am thankful for the discussions I have had with some of the students after the workshop about gender inequalities in the professional music world. A friend mentioned the concept of blind auditions in philharmonic/symphony auditions (and Sebastien did too when he answered my question asking where the women were). I found an (outdated) article from 1997, but it still has some good statistics on the introduction of blind auditions: “Using blind auditions increases by 50 percent the chances that a woman will advance from the preliminary round and nearly triples her chances of being selected from among the finalists, Goldin and Rouse find. The move to ‘blind’ auditions, they figure, explains anywhere from a quarter to nearly a half of the growing share of women in America’s top orchestras from 1970 to 1990.” Click here to read all of it. Here’s a less formal blog that addresses the fact that blind auditions also affect racial discrimination in hiring, another huge factor since gender and race oppression cannot be separated so cleanly. So if large orchestras and philharmonics have adopted this method that is causing positive shifts, how do freelance musicians who work primarily based on networking and connections work to end the discrimination that is so apparent in the bands we see? If our natural tendency is to gravitate towards networking with male musicians, I think we all (men and women alike) must make conscious efforts to network with women and reevaluate the value we give to female musicians on an everyday basis.

For me, examining gender and music continues here at Ingesund with questions of who becomes professional and who is encouraged to continue professionally. This is, of course, gendered and racialized. At Oxy I was focused on which composers are performed and most well-known, and now that I am on a clearer path of performing music as a profession, the gender divide is staring me in the face even more intensely. This workshop inspired me to go for what makes me happiest and to seek joy and pleasure, but also gave me a fresh kick of frustration with this system and a need to continue active resistance. So here we go!

Sweden has become my home once again, and I find myself in a lovely town where the mosquitos are plenty and the sun shines until 10pm. Well, actually I’m about 5 km outside of this little town, where there is no commerce, not even a kiosk. The school I am attending is surrounded by water, as it is situated on a little channel that is between a lake and a small bay, if you will. I am waiting for the winter to come, when we can walk across the ice into town which cuts the time it takes to walk in half. As it turns out, I could actually sail anywhere in the world from this lake because it is the northernmost lake that is connected all the way to the Göta Canal and out through Göteborg and into the North Sea.

Today I took a long walk and found myself in the surrounding fairytale-like forest with lingonberries and cow grates and paused for a swim in the lake and splayed out on a rock for a while. Part of me loves how slowly the courses are getting started so I can have more time to settle in and appreciate a life that is not filled with the stress I was used to at Occidental. Another part of me is still ingrained with a need for concrete accomplishments and stress, so I am soothing my need for constant engagement with structure. It is a good lesson for me to learn. I need it, especially after this hectic summer!

Since I got to Sweden, I have been making new friends and reconnecting with old friends in magical ways. When I first got to Sweden, we had a reunion with some classmates when we studied together on Öland in ’07/’08. I am so thankful for knowing and being in contact with these marvelous people and every time we reunite I feel so comfortable, content, loving, and proud. It is funny how we can all live in different parts of the world/Sweden, yet when we get back together there is an immediate trust and comfort that is so unique.

And now that I am here and situated at school, I am once again surrounded by people who are here to meet others, collaborate, improve on their instrument, and grow. It is inspirational to be around so many who are here for a new beginning, of sorts. I look forward to what this year will bring…..!

And here is a wonderful cover of a song for you to enjoy!

So, the internet is kind of crazy in that it gives us access to SO MUCH MUSIC! I have found so many awesome artists just by clicking links from other artists I know. And I love posting these groups/musicians that I find, because it is so exciting to listen to them and spread the great music there is out there!

Check out this band, called Vindvisa, who actually went to the school I will attend next year and have a wonderful, complex sound and beautiful vocals. I especially love the song called “Heartbeats” because it is a good picker-upper and the lyrics are so true!

A friend of theirs (not sure of their relationship, but her Soundcloud was linked from the Vindvisa page) named Moa McAllister has entrancing guitar accompaniment, heartfelt lyrics and a soulful voice.

I also wanted to pass on an important message to artists out there blogged by Addison Eaton, who is someone very special to me and also a very talented artist. Browse his skills, colors, forms, playfulness and love here!!!

I greatly appreciate this.

This is a wonderful time of rapid changes and exciting new adventures! In May I graduated from college and have already had ten days of choir tour with the magnificent Occidental College Glee Club in Boston, Massachusetts and the Cape Cod, completed a ten day (80 hours) Wilderness First Responder course and a week of staff training for my summer job that begins in two weeks: taking a group of thirteen high schoolers on a 25-day trip to Morocco and Spain. This all leads into a year of music studies at Ingesund Folkhögskola in a small town in the region of Värmland in Sweden. I can’t believe I pulled off such a sweet line up! I have experienced waves of reality checks, however, entering the “real world,” which really just means a place where, among other things that are different than a college campus, most people do not speak the language of Occidental College. I am finding myself in spheres where I cannot easily access the conversations about race, gender, class, sexuality, and music in the same way that I did on a college campus, especially one such as Oxy. What I really mean is that for the first time I am having to find ways to explain (or refrain from explaining) how I think in ways that are not already laid out by the conversations already in place on campus. I find myself wondering how I will stay connected to the challenges that my course work, fellow students, and professors (mainly in Sociology and Critical Theories and Social Justice) presented me in critically questioning this world and the way I (and others) live my life in it. It makes me thankful for the friendships I have made through college that will continue to challenge and push this world, our ideas of how it works, and where our energies should be focused. I had a wonderful conversation with my sister today about the importance of challenging oneself to create instead of letting being critical of the things that are not working suck out all of our energy. I am thankful for her every day, especially in these times when her understanding means so much to me.

 

It is funny that most of my posts this far somehow relate back to Sweden, and most are about music. This is a big reason why I wanted to go back to Sweden: to reconnect with my other half, be with family and good old friends, and also to enter the magical music scene to see what emerges out of me and from the opportunities that arise. I look forward to buckling down and focusing on music, as well as being surrounded by other musicians in such an intimate environment. I am so excited for what I am going to learn from all of them! But first, Morocco and Spain plus a mountain of leadership experience to come!

 

Here’s another video from the choir tour that topped off my college experience in the best way possible: singing, a loving family of 40 awesome people who also love to sing, and new places I have never been before. This piece is called The Sounding Sea and we performed it in a church in the hometown of one of the choir members in Sherborn, Mass.

I lived in Gothenburg for the summer of 2008 to work at a nursing home after spending a year at Ölands Musikteaterskola. I lived with a good friend of mine and her boyfriend in an apartment. All of us are musicians of some sort, and I remember how Terje played me some of his original songs and I was so impressed. Now he is in an awesome band called Seaweed and is making more wonderful music! I have been listening to their album non-stop. Check it out here!

Its senior recital time! On Saturday I will sing my heart out for about an hour of music and in six different languages! I’m so excited to make music with four other student musicians as well as the accompanist I’ve been working with all year. So if you’re in the L.A. area, come by this Saturday, April 7th, at 7:30 in Bird Studio at Occidental College for some good times. Composers featured are the following: Pauline Viardot Garcia, Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel, Rebecca Clarke, Maria Szymanowska, Irma Urteaga, Alicia Terzian, Augusta Holmès, Elfrida Andrée, Corona Schröter, as well as W.A. Mozart, Aaron Copland, Alberto Ginastera, Carlos Guastavino and Carl Maria von Weber.

Being immersed in the classical style right now has given me a huge appreciation especially for the classical vocal technique. For my Senior project as a music major, I am to perform a 60-minute recital of vocal music. I have chosen to focus on female composers, as it angers me how underrepresented women are in composition and in the creation of music. It’s not that they are not making music, it’s just that nobody is listening to them! It has been a fascinating journey to uncover names and history and I know there is so much more to find. And so much more music to sing!!!

In the research I have done, I came upon a talented duo who uncover lesser-known works and record them. They write great bios about each of the composers they feature, which I appreciate very much. I believe the composers’ social context to be very important to the arts they create, it’s consumption, and its social significance. Click here to open a new page to their blog, titled The Art Song Project. It is a collaboration of Swedish-Egyptian vocalist Hélène Nyqvist and German pianist Philipp Vogler. Through their project I found two composers I absolutely love and will be singing some of their music: Elfrida Andrée (Sweden: 1841-1929) and Augusta Holmès (France: 1847-1903). It was especially exciting to find a Swedish composer with texts in Swedish, so I could connect to my roots and sing in my other native language.

By Augusta Holmès: A Trianon

By Elfrida Andrée: En vacker höstdag

I have always loved both Ane Brun and Jose Gonzalez for their guitar parts that always tug on my heartstrings; now they’ve produced one of their collaborations!!!  The video is called Undersea Funeral, click here to watch it!

And Ane Brun is coming to L.A. in May….I think she will be a great live performer, as she gives so much of herself in her recorded albums. Her lyrics are so honest and so true.