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  • Writer's pictureBetsy Cook Weber

Svanholm Singers

It would seem that every citizen in Lund, Sweden packed into the large Cathedral yesterday at noon to hear the home-town boys, the Svanholm Singers. Rick and I were lucky to get a seat.

We were also very lucky to sit next to a super nice guy who owns a small farm outside Lund and who sings in his church choir. He spent one year of high school as part of an exchange program in Minnesota, so his English was excellent. At one minute before noon, he said, “Look back at the clock,” and there was a magnificent mechanical clock complete with musicians that paraded in and out of opening and shutting doors as the clock struck the hour.

And then my friend, whose name I never did learn, said, “And now it begins.” And that entire, huge audience fell quiet and silent, and they remained that way for the ensuing hour.

The Svanholm Singers consists of sixteen young men aged 20 - 30. They are led by a vibrant young, female conductor, Sofia Söderberg. My farmer friend said, "When she took over everyone said, 'Well, this will never work,' and then she began taking them to competitions, and they won! No one is saying that any more."

Their program was entirely in Swedish, and it was loosely woven together by narration delivered very elegantly and expressively by various singers who wore lavalier mikes that they turned on only to speak. During the narration, the singers would move to different positions giving the audience constantly-changing visual vignettes. The theme (apparently) was mankind's interaction with the earth. I have no idea what was being said or what was being sung for that matter, but the narration apparently gave the audience context because they reacted throughout the program with nods and head shakes. The narrative enhanced the music in a very meaningful way.

The singing was clear and confident throughout. It was a joy to see and hear this group, typical of the "youth choir" tradition all over Europe. In the U.S., our definition of a "youth choir" is a high school or even middle school group, but youth choirs in Europe are, generally, college or post-college in age.

So, my question is, "Why on earth don't we have similar groups in the U.S?" We have loads of singers in university choirs. I know that, post graduation, they enrich our church choirs, semi-professional groups, community choruses, etc., but wouldn't they also love to sing together in groups like this as well?

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Oct 25, 2021

Set Svanholm was a well-known Swedish tenor (known for singing Wagner) who later became General Manager of the Royal Opera in Stockholm. His daughter, Eva Svanholm Bohlin, was the founder of this choir. I met Eva at the Marktoberdorf Chamber Choir competition one year, when she brought her women's choir. Her son, Ragnar Bohlin (grandson of Set Svanholm), is well-known in the US: until recently he was conductor of the San Francisco Symphony Chorus. All the many connections are amazing (yet not surprising, given how small our choral world truly is!).

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