Looking back at 2019 - endings and new beginnings
I want to take this opportunity to wish all my fans and listeners, colleagues, friends and family a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! Thank you for a great 2019 and all of the magical musical moments, traveling hours, new ideas, old tunes, crazy dances, interesting discussions, challenges and successes that we shared! This year brought me to Olofström, London, Abu Dhabi, Gothenburg, Trondheim, Stockholm, New York City, Washington DC, Minneapolis, Washington IA, Aberdeen SD, Devils Lake ND, Västervik, Halmstad, Täby, Nynäs, Harstad, Virserum, Färjestaden, Förde, Loskälva, Kalmar, Fjärås, Varberg, Bergshamra, Farsund, Hilleröd, Oslo, Kårsta, Tampere, Stockholm and Uppsala, with Emilia Amper Band, Ragnhild Furebotten and Frode Haltli, Simon Crawford-Phillips, Marque Gilmore and Steve Williamson, The Forbidden Orchestra, NYU Abu Dhabi, Arts Midwest, Lisa Grotherus and Jakob Koranyi, UTOM Unga tankar om musik, Christoffer Nobin, Sirintip Phasuk, Robin Cochrane, Dan Knagg, Anders Löfberg, Olle Linder, Simone Moreno, Anders von Hoffsten, Homero Alvarez, Emilia Amper Trio, Musica Vitae, Stockholm Brass Quintet and Camerata Nordica. The last concerts of this year were Christmas concerts in the beautiful Nidaros cathedral in Trondheim, where I was guest soloist with the Nidaros cathedral's girls’ choir and the Trondheim Soloists, a truly divine experience!
Outside and inside the beautiful Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim, Norway, December 2019
This year has also brought me to some important decisions. The biggest one, I think, is that due to the climate crisis I have stopped flying. My last flight was getting home from the US in April, and now I only tour staying on the ground. People ask me how it’s going, but it feels like I don’t really know yet… I mean, so far I’ve turned down tours in the US, Egypt and Algeria, and the rest of my concerts have been quite close to Sweden so that has been fine. It has sometimes taken me longer to get to the concerts, but that has been fine… It feels good to tour on the ground and also for the stressed body and mind: to travel slower! I’m looking forward to starting taking the train down to continental Europe to see what that is like!
I realize that in some way it is a privilege to “be able” to make this decision. I don’t have family in countries on the other side of the world, I have my main scene + “home” genre + most of my colleagues in Sweden and the other Nordic countries, there are ok train connections here. I am established enough to not stress about getting enough gigs. I also have already travelled so much! To lots of wonderful places all around the world. I really miss my friends in countries far away and it makes me sad to think that I won’t be seeing them, at least for quite a long while, and all the missed musical moments and artistic possibilities that just won’t happen now, and all the places I won’t see. But, when you think about it, how privileged isn’t that, to even feel sorry for yourself for this? The majority of people on Earth never travel anywhere. Sometimes it really makes me sick to think about how privileged we are (in the rich Western world for example) and how natural it is for us to feel we can and should have exactly everything we want… “Know your privilege” is a super important motto that I try to remember always, and think a lot about.
In history, musicians always travelled on the ground, slowly. What artistic inspirations and possibilities and situations will this decision CREATE, that would not have happened otherwise? I’m curious to see! And who could take on this challenge of essential urgent transition in the world with more power, love and creativity than artists? Probably no one!
To sum this up: who should stop flying if not me? I can’t NOT make this decision. Also, people talk about “thinking of the future of our children”. What do you mean “future” of “our” children? I don’t need to think about the future of my daughter, who happens to be a rich (globally compared), middle class, white Swedish child of parents with a high education, and will not be the first to be affected by all this, to realize that this is URGENT! The climate crisis is already here! It IS already taking lives and affecting the lives of children and people all around the world, except they happen to be mostly black or brown people and very often indigenous people... Animals are already going extinct, and eco systems are already being totally destroyed. It really is high time to act, act as much as you can, on as many levels as you can. What can you do? DO it!
So if you turn it around: What does all the experiences, cultural meetings, art that you create, wonderful moments for you right now, matter, if this destroys our environment and unique eco systems and animal species are lost forever, if it creates extreme draughts, forest fires out of control, floodings, storms and ill-growth that leads to famine, mass migration and war? Then we can’t see it as a “privilege” to “be able to stop flying”, being able to act, to make this transition in our lives. We all just have to do this.
"Flight Free 2020" logo in Swedish. Join and share this event and group on social media!
Another decision I made took a lot of time to figure out. Since I studied at Kungliga Musikhögskolan (the Royal College of Music) in Stockholm 2007-2011 one of my absolute biggest dreams was to teach there. I dreamt of being part of that wonderful group of teachers, all idols and big sources of inspiration for me, and work in such a great institution and share and develop knowledge. But it’s really hard to get a job there, all the positions are kind of filled... A few years ago I was lucky enough though, to be asked to start teaching there! So exciting! I was proud and inspired and a lot of people commented on how great and important this was for me. I taught “freelance knowledge”/music entrepreneurship, arranging/composing/ensemble, and nyckelharpa, led some projects and so on. In the beginning it was a bit nervous, to develop a course on college level all by myself, get into the system and not forget anything (there’s a huge difference between just going with the flow and teaching a wonderful weekend course, with inspiration in the moment, and teaching and being responsible for courses and students at a college, of course). But as the months passed, it didn’t get better, it was always a bit stressful for me, to plan the courses, hold the lectures and lessons and follow up for all the different students with all their different needs. I love teaching, it inspires me so much and gives me lots of energy in the moment! But this was taking up too much time, and in the long run eating up too much energy too (although at the same time being extremely rewarding! I know, it’s really difficult to explain), and I felt it disturbed my focus and my time that I needed to do everything needed for my freelance career. To keep focus and save your energy enough and have time enough to do all the things you need in your work as a musician is actually the biggest challenge with being a musician, in my opinion! It’s not difficult to create music or create opportunities for work, what is difficult is to live and work in a sustainable way, so your body or mind doesn’t break… Almost all my freelance musician colleagues (and culture workers in general) have experienced burn out symptoms, and so have I. Which is tragic… Me teaching at KMH probably would have worked better if I taught more, had a bigger percentage, it would have been easier with the focus and getting into the routines and everything… But… I don’t have time for that! I am a freelance musician! You can imagine what a process it was in my brain to slowly slowly understand what I was feeling … But once my head was with me I was immediately ready with the decision to quit teaching there. Maybe it will be different in the future, I don’t know. But this feels really good right now. Even though it still feels strange that I don’t want to teach there. Dreams are big and strong, and you have to dare to dream big to get somewhere, but you have to watch out for the risk that you get stuck in your dreams… It’s a super important and continuous, and not very easy, work to make sure your dreams are updated.
I also quit my contract with the booking agency that I had been working with for many years (to work with them was also one of my biggest dreams when I finished my studies!), throwing myself out into uncertainty (management/booking agency wise) for half a year, which is probably the contrary of what most artists in my situation want and need… A very difficult decision that also took time to figure out. After feeling lost and frustrated the whole of last autumn, I realized I needed to talk to some people I really trust artistically and as human beings, and I asked them if I could have a mentoring session with them. All of them were really kind and generous with their time and thoughts on art and life. Some gave the advice to stay with my agency until I had another plan, but I don’t really work like that, when I knew I didn’t want to stay I really needed to finish and move on, even though the road forward was unclear. I thought that quitting the contract would release a lot of energy and willpower in me, to move forward with strategies, planning and networking career wise, but I was totally wrong… The whole spring, I just felt a bigger and bigger need to step back, look inwards, refocus, reconnect to my artistic core… After six months I finally contacted a very inspiring new friend of mine, Noomi Hedlund, that I had met through UTOM (Unga tankar om music, a think tank for young top musicians, producers, music teachers etc from all genres in Sweden) and asked if we could meet and discuss a possible cooperation. She had just posted that even though a lot of people were contacting them about working together, they weren’t taking in any new artists, so I was a bit nervous. But they also thought it would be great to work together so now I have signed with my new management On A Boat Productions! So happy for this!
Me and my manager Noomi Hedlund at the Nordic Council's prize gala at Stockholm Concert Hall, where I performed with Västerås Sinfonietta, Fredrik Gille and Cathrine Winnes.
The Forbidden Orchestra at Sommarscen Malmö, Pildammsteatern 2018. Photo by ?
The year also brought a sad, but anyway right, end to probably the most powerful band I have ever played in: The Forbidden Orchestra. Due to different reasons, it was just right for us to end this journey right now, but we will always have the strongest bond and love for each other, and we are all very thankful for what we created, experienced and shared together with amazing audiences on all our concerts.
Showcase at Womex 2019 in Tampere, Finland. Photo by Andrew Cronshaw.
If we look more on musical seeds planted and fruits of long and hard work harvested this year, one of the biggest things I did this year was definitely playing a showcase at Womex 2019 (the world’s biggest expo/trade fair/conference/showcase festival for folk/world music, this year held in Tampere, Finland)! I’ve applied for a showcase there for ten years, hundreds (thousands?) of bands apply every year but only some handfuls get chosen, and now finally I got the chance! It just felt so right, the whole concert was just like “there is nowhere more right for me to be right now than here!” I was SO ready! And it was so much fun, such a kick! The audience loved it and it was filmed by TV, so I will share it with you soon.
HAYDN'S FOLK: Emilia Amper, Simon Crawford-Phillips, Dan Knagg, Musica Vitae, Stockholm Brass Quintet and festival soloists at Tjolöholm's castle,
Change Music Festival 2019.
Photo by Olof Grind.
ODE and the ensemble of Förvandlingar by Pelle Hanaeus at Byteatern in Kalmar 2019.
Frode Haltli's Grenseskogen with Erik Raude, Håkon Stene and Emilia Amper, and Ragnhild Furenbotten's Klopper with Frode Halti and Emilia Amper, both albums released in September 2019.
I had my first concerts with the amazing Lisa Grotherus and Jakob Koranyi, created music, performed and acted together with ODE and the ensemble of actors in Pelle Hanaeus and Byteatern's Förvandlingar for the re-opening of Sweden's most modern performing arts house (in Kalmar), recorded and released an album (Klopper) with Ragnhild Furebotten (and her goosebumps beautiful and fun music) and Frode Haltli, and Frode Haltli’s Grenseskogen album was released and has gotten fantastic reviews! I got to play the Haydn’s folk concert again, that me and Simon Crawford-Phillips created last year, with Dan Knagg and sinfonietta at the Change music festival. I performed the Broderfolkskonsert by Lasse Thorsen together with Ragnhild Hemsing, Trondheim Symphony Orchestra and Eivind Aadland at Kamfest (Trondheim Chamber Music Festival) in September, and me and Ragnhild also met in duo.
Ragnhild Hemsing and Emilia Amper with the Trondheim Symphony Orchestra and as a duo at Kamfest, Trondheim, Norway, September 2019.
I met and got to play a duo (in the Nidaros girls’ choir’s Christmas concert) with the amazing organ player Petra Björkhaug, and we are soon meeting again in Stockholm for some new exciting plans for the future. I had a wonderful tour with Emilia Amper Band in the US (last flights, this spring), produced by the amazing organization Arts Midwest, meeting thousands of children and hundreds of adults, sharing our music and culture with them and at the same time experiencing American culture and everything from rural to big city USA, and I miss my dear friends over there very much.
Emilia Amper Band with Fredrik Gille, Anders Löfberg and Erika Risinger in one of the numerous schools we played in during our tour with Arts Midwest, spring 2019.
I got my first and second commissioned work as a composer only (I mean, I’ve composed a lot, but only for when I have been performing it myself in different settings), first for the folk music group Farandi and then for Västerås Sinfonietta. I’m into my second year of my five year work scholarship from the Swedish Arts Grants Committee, and also got a work grant (again) from the Swedish Arts Council. I’m so thankful for this, and I really realize the privilege of having this support system for artists. But I also think it’s totally right that we have it, because art and culture is essential for humanity and society, helping spread democracy, tolerance, knowledge, the well-being and interaction of people, and so on and so on, and is being valued WAY too low all the time!
I don’t know if you can call all these updating of dreams some kind of 40 years crises (I’m turning 39 next year), or if it’s just the cycles of being an artist and a freelancer, but anyway: I like it! It’s not always easy to be “true” to yourself (whatever that is…) and follow your heart as much as you can, but you have to really try your best! Now I feel inspired and ready for a new year, and I hope you are too with whatever you are doing and where ever you are in the world right now. I wish us all a new year full of love, compassion, new knowledge, a big transition in people’s minds and in society (Step up politicians!!! Step up big companies!!! Step up rich people!!! and just everybody, please..!) to a more sustainable way of life here on Earth, lots of great musical and artistical experiences, and I wish us all the challenges, excitement, flow, peace and rest that each one of us needs!
Hope to see you somewhere along the road in 2020!