On June 25, 2014, I left Sweden after the rollercoaster that was my “Great Swedish Adventure” — the Swedish TV show Allt för Sverige. I left with a feeling that I had learned a great deal about myself, about Sweden, and about my family’s heritage. But it also left a hole in my heart. To be so suddenly cut off from the people and the place I’d come to love left me an emotional wreck – I returned home to life exactly as it had always been, yet I found myself crying at the drop of a hat and yearning for something I couldn’t quite grasp.
In the middle of that emotional stew was an unsettled feeling, like the journey was not yet complete and a mission was not yet accomplished. I was energized and felt that everything was pointing me somewhere, but I didn’t know my destination and couldn’t see the way forward.
Talking with my fellow travelers after I got home was a balm that helped my heart begin to heal, but I still found that I had to keep myself focused on projects in order to keep myself sane. One year ago today, August 28, 2014, I completed the solo concert I had planned as a goal for myself before I even knew Allt för Sverige existed and it unexpectedly consumed six months of my life.
An idea formed one night when I was writing up my concert program and noticed I could use one more piece in a set of sacred songs… so I made the last-minute addition of O Store Gud. I only had three weeks to learn to sing it in Swedish, so I learned my Swedish vowels and practiced my diction every night, singing over the phone to some of my Swedish-speaking friends so they could critique my pronunciation. Little did I know that one song would end up shaping the following year of my life.
The concert was a resounding success. People enjoyed the arias and art songs, and the operatic duets with my talented friends were a delight… but the simple folk songs, and the O Store Gud, were the ones that gave people chills. As a performer, I relish those magical moments when a piece ends and the air hangs heavy in the room, completely silent, as the audience holds its breath. Those are the times when it feels like we are all suspending life for just a moment as we are experiencing the same story together.
So after that, I wanted to learn more. I found collections of Swedish folk songs and hymns, listening to Swedish popular music on Spotify, and finding simple songs that I loved and learned to sing them. First I learned Allt under himmelens fäste. Then Det är en ros utsprungen. Then I signed up for a beginning Swedish class in Seattle. And then… I got a call asking me if I wanted to come back to Sweden for an Allt för Sverige Christmas Special.
My heart leaped out of my chest and I think I said “yes!” before I even thought about how it was going to work. The filming schedule conflicted with a major opera audition I had lined up, so I had to figure out if I could do both. (I ended up having my audition sixteen hours after I arrived back home – though I wasn’t cast, I was happy I wasn’t sick after all the travel and found out I’m capable of performing after a long-haul flight, so I still consider that a win.)
During the Christmas Special I had glorious moments with my family – singing songs for each other in the kitchen, tap dancing in the living room, and a beautifully simple transcendent moment together as we drove along the seashore listening to a CD made by two cousins from my own generation. It was so beautiful when they started singing harmony together, it was exactly the kind of music I love to listen to and make myself. And it struck me deeply that we truly were family… and I came to think of that visit as my “Greater Swedish Adventure.”
It was a wonderful visit, but far too short. And the journey was still not done.
So this summer, I embarked on my third trip to my ancestors’ homeland for my “Greatest Swedish Adventure.” A journey of my own design… meeting family and getting to spend real time with them, singing in beautiful Swedish churches, and climbing the highest mountain in Sweden.
Thus begins part III of the trilogy. Stay tuned for the stories as I remember them. The adventure continues…