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Pop Orchestra in the Cellar of the Stockholm School of Social Work

8 June, 2009; 17:42 Leave a comment Go to comments

Sander Screencap One of the best things I’ve managed to get involved with since moving to Sweden is the Stockholm Academic Orchestra (click here for an English auto-translation), a group of about 30 amateur musicians that put on 4-5 concerts per year, usually renting out a little church in the south borough. Back in December, I found out through a work connection that they were fresh out of trombones, and I was looking for a new music project, so it came at the perfect time. What’s more, they were preparing to perform a piece by Sibelius, one of my favorite composers — his Violin Concerto.

Since then, we’ve had two formal concerts — first in February, the Sibelius violin concerto featuring a fantastic guest soloist, Sergei Bolkholvets, and then in May, a mix of Debussy, a concerto for bondeone by Piazzolla, and collaborations with four local pop musicians (AK von Malmborg, Mikael Sundin, Anna Järvinen, and some-time [ingenting] singer Christopher Sander). This is one of the great things about this orchestra: they have some deep and rich connections with musicians of all types across Stockholm, meaning that they can put on a show that mixes powerful traditional pieces with adventurous collaborations.

This past Friday we had a paid gig — playing a few pieces for the graduation ceremony of the Stockholm School of Social Work, including one of Christopher Sander’s songs from [ingenging], Bergochdalbanan (The Rollercoaster). Then afterward, the fun began: doing a video recording for one of Swedish Television’s online blogs of us backing up Christopher on Bergochdalbanan. If the weather hadn’t been so windy, we would have set up on the lawn outside of the School of Social Work, but instead we grabbed our instruments and sheet music and were led through a narrow door underneath the stairs, down another set of stairs into the cellar of the building. Then a right turn, through another door, and into a long corridor with grey concrete walls, fluorescent lighting, and pipes and wires lining the ceiling and left-hand wall, stretching all the way down the length of the building. This is where we were to play.

It took some time to get settled into positions that felt at least reasonably comfortable to play as a group — this was a far cry from the layout we were used to, and it takes a moment to put aside those habits of being near to certain instruments and far from others. Eventually the cellos were set up with some chairs, and we all found one way or another to place our sheet music within sight. As the videographers got their portable gear calibrated, we did our own calibrations — small groups of individuals playing a few bars from the song, or improvising a klezmer ditty, one way or another exploring the acoustics of this corridor. It was amazingly easy to hear each other — but afterall, the walls were very hard, and the corridor narrow, so where else would the sound go, but into each other’s ears? Then we started playing for real.

We did two takes. The song begins with an all-string introduction alternating between subdominant and dominant, next highlighted by some woodwind melodies, then with the brass up to a final dominant. It’s resolved by Christopher Sanders’s unamplified vocals in the verse, accompanied by his bandmate playing glockenspiel this time instead of the normal piano part. I actually don’t play much, but when I do play, it’s fun — basically a bass trombone part, providing the lower-end foundation during the powerful second refrain, so I get to really belt it out in the low range when the time is right. When I wasn’t playing, I was listening — and noticing that because of where I was standing, I was near instruments that I don’t normally hear so well — in particular, the cellos and the lead 2nd violin, playing some lovingly delivered counter-melodies and delicate pizzicatos. At the same time, with such effective acoustics, I could hear sounds from all the way down the corridor. The videographer made his way up and down, slowly weaving his way between us and somehow managing to catch some key instruments at the right time.

But if you’ve read this far, then why not see for yourself? SVT has uploaded the video to their blog, so just click here and check it out. Now you know the backstory on how we ended up in such an industrial setting. By the way, you can catch a glimpse of me hiding behind the double-bass — mostly, you can just see my slide.

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