Thursday, December 25, 2008

Blog move

I have moved my blog back to the blogspot host, and re-published it.
The old web address will redirect to this one, and I've also added a
new link,, which should always get you
to the right spot.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Christmas concert

Katarina and I give a Christmas concert each year. This is a tradition we started when we lived in Stockholm, and we continued it after we had moved to Örebro. Sunday Dec 14 was our third Christmas concert in Rinkaby Church.

I don't give many concerts - perhaps 2-3 each year - so it's always a special (and unfamiliar) occasion. I felt great the day before, but on the morning of the concert, I woke up with the snivels and a stiff and sore throat. The vocal cords were not affected, so I figured I'd be able to sing, but it took a good 2-3 hours of careful vocal warmups before the voice started feeling like it normally does when I get out of bed! This was obviously going to be a challenge.

Our musicians were coming in from Stockholm on an afternoon train, so we'd have rehearsals in the church, then go to our place for a quick bite, then back to the church. Rehearsals went ok, except I started feeling a bit dizzy while singing O Helga Natt (Cantique de Noël). I started thinking that I should perhaps let Katarina sing that one. But as I got up for that particular block in the concert, I realized it was to late to ask...

A blocked or runny nose isn't so much of a problem as long as you don't rely on nasal resonance, but it is a problem when it starts running down into your throat. Also, worrying about the voice distracts you from your main mission: to connect with the audience. Well, what can you do?

In the end, the concert went well. I decided to post two clips on youtube (since people keep asking, and they were, after all, fairly decent.)

Cantique de Noël is actually a bear of a song for a tenor. There are only two ways to do it: either with full voice and dramatic quality, or ... not at all. When I say "dramatic quality", I don't mean to imply sounding like a dramatic tenor. Both my voice and my demeanor are firmly in the lyrical tenor camp, and I couldn't be a dramatic tenor if my life depended on it. But within the bounds of their natural voice, each singer is (or should be) able to draw on different "modes" - for example, light, lyrical, and dramatic. It's not a matter of singing with "different voices", but rather of subtle shifts in timbre depending on the mood of the song.

In Cantique de Noël, the tessitura and range are pretty similar to Cielo e mar from La Gioconda. The ending high Bb should come as a release, but the long low phrases and the forte passage around the passaggio which precede it can often cause problems. You need a stable, low position but with head voice firmly engaged from the very beginning (as always, one might add). At the same time, you had better not make it too dramatic. After all, you're singing about the Second Coming of Jesus - not the end of the world. It's a dramatic occasion, alright, but one that calls for rejoicing.

An added challenge for a Swedish tenor is of course that Jussi Björling's version of this song is welded into everyone's mind, and it is of course not possible to even begin to compare with his unique rendition. All you can do is to try to be yourself, stay very cool, and hope that hearing it live with another voice is after all refreshing, even compared to playing Jussi for the thousandth time on your CD player at home.

The other song, Jul, Jul, Strålande Jul, is also one that everyone knows by heart, and has heard a countless number of times. I am reasonably pleased with the way the phrases move, the legato line, and the almost fragile quality of the mezza voce.

It's pretty obvious that I'm unaccustomed to the whole concert setting. Only more concerts can cure that.

A warm thank you to Robert Robertsson, who came from Stockholm to play the guitar, and to Eva Johnson who played the piano. Our Christmas concerts are a wonderful opportunity to get into the right Christmas spirit, and your warm presence and musicianship make it easy.