Archive | October 2011

Hitting the Pavement

It’s certainly been an adventure here in Sweden, from the two week tour with Elias to jumpstart the trip, to not finding housing in Stockholm, to Tallinn, to Piteå, and back. I’ve had a great time so far, but as the calendar turns to November I find myself switching into panic mode. I have three weeks left to schedule and perform a concert – one of my primary goals for the trip. What the hell have I been doing? Well, it was only about a month ago that my accompanist, fantastic guitar player Gian, became available. Based in Stockholm, Gian performs regularly there and assured me he would find us a gig. Several weeks passed and no responses. When we weren’t getting any traction, I took the next step and asked Gian if he would be willing to play in other cities around Sweden. I would reimburse him for everything if our compensation from the venues were insufficient; I mean, music is how he earns a living. This would put a strain on my own financials but would be worth it because of the experience.

When he agreed about two weeks ago, I began contacting venues and town culture centers across Sweden to get information on scheduling a concert. Out of the thirty-plus emails I sent out, I got three responses. The first seemed promising, suggesting a date and asking our fee, but after following up numerous times I have heard nothing since. The other two emails said sorry, we can’t do it. What about the remaining 27 messages swimming in cyberspace? This brings me to a substantial problem of the 21st century, which is the fallacy of email. In short, the fallacy of email is that it promises to help us communicate better than ever before, when in reality email facilitates greater silence. With email, we’ve created an accountability-free, guilt-free system of ignoring people. To be fair, email has – statistically speaking – enabled a massive quantity of correspondence to be exchanged; yet, for that precise reason it’s inevitable many messages will be “filtered” out.

As you can imagine, this process frustrates me to no end. Although I admit it would sting my ego, I would much rather hear 30 no’s than hardly any answers at all. So I’ve given up email. Not in general, but for the purposes of arranging said concert. Time to hit the pavement. I’m not a natural salesman, much less when the product is myself, but I realize it’s just something I have to do if I want this concert. I’ve hit up several places in Lund so far, and have two left on my list for tomorrow. Otherwise, though, it’s not financially feasible to travel around and knock on doors in neighboring cities. That was the problem that email was supposed to solve but has miserably bungled. With only three weeks left on the clock, this is judgment week. Put up or shut up. Come on Lund.

PS Happy Halloween

Harold Melvin

It’s been a crazy week so I’m a bit behind, but here’s a classic from one of the best soul groups of the 1970s

2011 Music Trends

Swedish Pop by up and comer Veronica Maggio

Contrasted with urban techno-pop from hip hop collective Cocaine 80s

Diva Dive

In 20 years, we went from this:

to this:

What happened?

Kulning

Kulning is a traditional Scandinavian “herding call” that typically women would perform in order to beckon the livestock back from far-off grazing pastures. The practice is over 1000 years old. Cool stuff.

The American in 1875

I got a bad cold about two weeks ago, which still nags in the form of morning sniffles. I mention this not as introduction to discussing the condition of my sinus passageways, but to explain why I finally visited Lund Stadsbibliotek and opened a library account here. You see, when you are nursing a cold, there is little to do besides watch movies or peruse the internet, or – can you imagine – read. I only brought two paperbacks with me from the U.S. that I’d long since finished, and I was overdue for a new read.

Lund offers a sizable selection of English-language works, and the first to catch my eye was Henry James’ The American. Expectedly, the title alone was enough to pique my interest. One can only be “the American” if one is outside of America or in a foreign place, and as “the American” here in Sweden I wanted to see what James had to say on the matter. His succinct title also signifies a prime importance of this singular man and his tale – he wasn’t any old American, he was “the” American – a notion that I find particularly agreeable. But by checking out the book, I also simply wanted to read more of Henry James.

Portrait of a Lady had been one of my favorites as a teenager, and in college I enjoyed reading the much shorter Daisy Miller. Henry James based many of his novels around Americans traveling in Europe, and drew substantial inspiration for such works from his own time abroad. Writing during the height of the Victorian Age, James was acutely interested in social class stratification and the resulting interplay between European aristocrats and their “more commercial” American counterparts. Of course, James must have been aware that an aristocracy still existed in America at that time (mostly in New England and the South), as battles within the social hierarchy between “new” and “old” elites (arguably) continued until the Great Depression, but such distinctions were to James’ credit more profound in Europe.

The American is a tale like many of James’ works, focusing on a wealthy American businessman traveling in France. At its heart the novel details the Yankee’s utterly harrowing inability, despite his wealth and impeccable comportment, to gain the acceptance of an old Parisian family whose daughter he seeks in marriage. The crux of their disapproval rests ironically upon the protagonist’s successes as a prototypical self-made man.

Had Christopher Newman “noble lineage” comparable to the Bellegardes, which in practice would have required him to assume haughty airs and not work a day in his life, he would instead have been the perfect spousal candidate. In this sense, one could read the novel as an indictment of Europe and its confoundingly rigid, outdated (or so James argues) social customs. Indeed, given the bleak ending in which the bride-to-be, devastated by her mother’s refusal of Newman, fatalistically joins a convent to the horror of all parties, it is difficult to read James’ message as otherwise.

Of course, now in 2011 we’ve long ridden Europe of traditional aristocracies and the American way has prevailed. The determinants of social capital exist worldwide as ever, but the multimillionaire tycoon has replaced the aristocratic Count or Lord at the top of the food chain. I suppose that’s an improvement, although to Occupy Wall Street it’s clearly not. I’ll say more later on my thoughts as “the American” in Sweden.

Piteå Performs

The following day Erik gave me a tour of Piteå. It’s a nondescript little town, driven by the music school and adjoining satellite campus of Luleå Technical University as well as summer tourism. Just a few hours drive from the heart of Lapland to the interior, Piteå’s location on the Swedish coast also categorizes it as part of the so-called “Nordic Riviera.” Only two hundred miles south of the arctic circle, Piteå enjoys 20hr days during the summer months. I clearly picked the wrong time to visit, as it has begun to get cold and rainy.

The music school/tech university facility is impressive. Home to no more than a thousand students, the campus is cozy and boasts state of the art facilities. The Acusticum theater is a professional concert hall that puts Wesleyan’s counterpart to shame. In addition to the classrooms and studios, there are countless rehearsal studios with pianos and other instruments for practicing. The school’s greatest attribute lies in its vertical integration of the entire music production process.

First you have the content creators (fantastic musicians), then you have the sound engineers (and fully outfitted recording studios) to capture the music, then music producers (with top of the line editing software) to mix and master the tracks, then you have multimedia/graphic designers to create the cover art, pamphlets, etc., then you have the entire TV production department to film live concerts and/or music videos. And the best part – it’s all free. EU citizens pay $0 in tuition. (Ok, indirectly this is funded by higher overall taxes, but would you rather graduate in a mountain of debt/loans or take home less of your income later in life?). Sweden 1 – US 1. The school’s cafeteria food is also phenomenal, in case you were curious.

Later in the afternoon, I sat in on Erik’s choir rehearsal. [I posted a short clip of them singing a Jan Sandström (personal friend of Erik and one of Sweden’s best choral composers) piece several days ago]. Since the choir is a year-long class and not its own major, only 6 of the 24 singers were familiar to me – the rest of the Wesleyan contingent had either graduated already or not returned to the choir. One choraler was an American, from Oregon by way of Middle Tennessee State. I also met two percussionists from the U.S., Ohio and Texas to be exact. Although everyone did ask me what I was doing in Piteå, it’s clear that I am not the only random Yankee here! The choir sounded great. They only sang one or two pieces continuously from start to finish – it was a rehearsal after all – but I formed a solid impression of the group. The bass section in particular is excellent this year.

After the rehearsal, several of the singers were performing in a Magnus Tingsek tribute concert the Kårhuset, or student-run multipurpose performance space. Tingsek is not dead; quite the opposite, as it seems he’s still in the prime of his career, but I suppose they’re allowed to call it a tribute concert if they want. It was quite the production, and all eleven performers (2 drummers, 4 back-up singers, bass, guitar, keyboards, and two lead vocalists) were music students. How convenient. Check out some concert clips below. The lead girl singer is unbelievable. Damn. From talking to her after the show, I don’t think she has any idea how good she really is. They may not always seem so, but Swedes are in fact generally very modest.