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August 7, 2015

Choral Connections: Global Meets Local in Northwest ACDA
2015 Swedish Conductor Residencies Phase One Recap
Timothy Westerhaus, NW R & S Chair, University Choirs; NW ICEP Liaison
April 2015

The International Conductor Exchange Program (ICEP) is an ACDA initiative that connects choral musicians from across the world through annual residencies in partner countries. ICEP enables a direct and personal exploration of the choral music and traditions of one country each year. In February 2015, two conductors from Sweden spent ten days in each ACDA division, culminating in attending the national convention in Salt Lake City. This residency in the United States was the first of two phases; in September two conductors from each division with journey to Sweden as representatives of ACDA and choral music in the United States, and they will explore about the choral repertoire, techniques, and culture of Sweden. Northwest ACDA will be represented by Giselle Wyers (University of Washington) and Adam Steele (Oregon Episcopal School, Lewis and Clark College).

Swedish conductors Gunnel Sjöberg and Stefan Ekblad were in residence in the Northwest in Washington and Oregon, respectively. Both conductors engaged in clinics, rehearsals, receptions, sharing meals, lectures with a wide variety of choirs, with whom they shared generously about Swedish music and their approaches to choral sound. Because there is no funding for the actual residencies once guests arrive in the U.S., ICEP depends on the generosity of host institutions and individuals to provide transportation, lodging, meals, and additional costs. As Northwest ICEP liaison, I am humbled by the number of people in the Northwest who stepped forward eagerly to participate in hosting our guests. The summary of Gunnel’s and Stefan’s residencies below is a celebration of the spirit of hospitality in the Northwest and of the richness in such an exchange.

Gunnel Sjöberg split her residency between Eastern and Western Washington, beginning by attending the NAfME regional convention in Spokane. Sharon Smith (Crescendo Community Chorus) served as homestay and convention host, which included attending many performances and meeting many established conductors, including Jo Michael-Sheibe and Rodney Eichenberger. Lynn and Patrick Ryan (NW ACDA President) also assisted as day hosts throughout the convention.

Gunnel led a clinic of choral warm-ups and techniques to the Gonzaga University Women’s Chorus, eliciting a wide variety of colors, dynamics, and joyful creativity endemic to the Swedish choral tradition. Following a “Northwest ACDA Welcome” reception donated by Gonzaga University, she presented a workshop on choirs and literature representative of the Swedish choral tradition to the Gonzaga University Concert Choir and students and community members from the Inland Northwest.

The Western Washington component of Gunnel’s residency centered in Seattle with hospitality logistics spearheaded by Karen P. Thomas (Seattle Pro Musica) and Giselle Wyers (University of Washington). Hosted by Mona and Sam Dworkin, Gunnel explored the vibrancy of downtown Seattle, including Pike Place Market and the Seattle Art Museum sculpture park. Tim Beggs and the choir of First Covenant Church (with a strong Swedish community) and Allan Andrews of the Swedish Women’s Choir hosted Gunnel for a meal and evening of rehearsals. With Seattle Pro Musica, Gunnel led warm-ups and observed a rehearsal. These three organizations quickly provided an overview of the choral activity among church, community, and professional choruses in the U.S.

At the University of Washington, Gunnel was hosted by Giselle Wyers and Geoffrey Boers. Her lecture activities included speaking to a choral repertoire course on contemporary Swedish choral music and to a conducting class about the Swedish conducting tradition, focusing particularly on the influence of Eric Ericson. Gunnel worked with several ensembles, Geoffrey Boers commented:

Her vocal warm ups were the most impressive. She is a wonderful singer and a bright spirit…with generous smile, bright eyes….she was successful in warming up and teaching the ‘whole voice’ that is not just high and low, but loud and soft, bright and dark, and bel canto and ethnic. Before long the choir started to sound like a great Swedish choir.

Gunnel described her time as “awesome hospitality” and “very inspiring days in Spokane.” On her departure back to Sweden, she was “thinking of the fantastic time planned for me, which I am so grateful for. You and all your friends made my stay so wonderful, and I will remember them with such joy.”

The Oregon residency of Stefan Ekblad was diverse with regard to the types of choral experiences and rich in exploring the natural beauty of the Northwest. Adam Steele hosted Stefan in a lecture for music majors at Lewis & Clark College as well as a rehearsal with the treble choir, Voces Auream. With Adam, Stefan visited the Oregon Episcopal School, where he participated in a rehearsal by the OES Boy Choir. Serving as first homestay host, Ethan Chessin also hosted Stefan at Camas High School. Ethan commented that Stefan “was fascinated by the way we use solfege and kinesthetic techniques to teach singing skills, and he loved soaking up our American enthusiasm. He was helpful with our Swedish pronunciation, and gave us some tips on performance practice. My students were dumbfounded to hear about the Swedish system of free government-funded music schools, and the high level of choral participation there.”

Stefan explored the world of collegiate music in the U.S. with Ethan Sperry and the Portland State University Chamber Choir, attending a concert and presenting a conducting master class. During this time, Joel Godbey graciously hosted Stefan in his home and provided transportation.

Vance Sele and the Portland Scandinavian Chorus hosted Stefan at a soup supper and rehearsal. In Vance’s words, “During rehearsal, Stefan spoke about his life and work in Lund and also shared a choral arrangement of a Swedish folk song with our choir. He also rehearsed us on some of our own Swedish literature. We finished with him directing the Swedish national anthem…. How fun and rewarding to meet a new friend and colleague.” It is the hope that ICEP residencies create enduring relationships, and the positive connection between Stefan and Vance and the Portland Scandinavian Chorus makes clear this possibility: they plan to visit Stefan in Sweden in summer 2017 as part of their tour to Scandinavia.

An integral part of ICEP is experiencing the regional diversity of the United States, and Stefan’s exploration spanned from a Portland city tour with Adam Steele to the natural beauty of the Northwest a day at Canon Beach, complete with Fish & Chips at Mo’s with Vance Sele.

Coordinating these two residencies carries logistical challenges, and it was the generosity and enthusiasm of these conductors and choral music aficionados that made the 2015 ICEP Swedish program possible and so rich in cultural exchange. As we look ahead to 2016, the Northwest will once again have the opportunity to extend our hospitality. Two conductors from South Korea travel to the Northwest for residencies and to attend the NW Division Conference in Seattle. I encourage ensembles and conductors at every level to brainstorm ideas for these two exciting residencies.

Additional information will be forthcoming in early fall 2015.