My 10 Favourite Aarhus Moments
by Florian Städtler
On a train to Copenhagen Airport I simply wanted to keep some of the exceptional things that happened to me during my three-days stay at the Aarhus Vocal Festival by writing them down. Those who are member of the Vocal Blog group on Facebook or follow me on Twitter already got a slight impression, but here’s a bit more: “My 10 Favourite Aarhus Moments”.
1) Train Ride through Denmark
My trip to Aarhus went as follows: Shuttle bus from my hometown Freiburg (South-West of Germany) to EuroAirport Basel-Freiburg-Mulhouse in 45 minutes, departure 4:30am. Scheduled take-off 6:30am – due to technical problems at our destination Berlin-Tegel Airport, we actually took off at 7:30am. 4 hours changeover in Berlin, with probably the worst WiFi quality ever experienced on a European airport. The Berlin-Copenhagen flight was only slightly delayed so I made it to the 3.5 hours train ride from Copenhagen to Aarhus. And I realized again, that train rides are a nice way to get an impression of a country: You get in touch with people, hear them talking and you see much more of the landscape while you travel. Denmark and its people made a friendly and relaxed impression, just as sunny as the weather on the way.
After having checked in I asked for the way to Ridehuset. The receptionist didn’t understand until I showed him the venue’s name in the printed booklet: “Aaah, Rdddhes(e)”, she replied in a peculiarly nasal tone but with an extraordinarily charming smile…and an extraordinarily pretty nose. I smiled back and never even tried to pronounce it again. What to the unflexible German sounded like a major logopedic incident turned out to be a most amazing room to meet and perform. The Ridehuset was a former hall for horseriding and its nice architecture was the perfect place to get together, to listen to concerts, eat, drink and relax. What makes it even better, is the fact that it is situated very close to the workshop locations, a very important fact for the vibes of any festival.
3) The World at One Table
Imagine a football fan sitting at one table with Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Rio Ferdinand, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Ronaldinho. After the opening concert I found myself in a similar situation. I joined a table with Clare Wheeler (The Swingle Singers), Peder Karlsson (The Real Academy), Jussi Chydenius (Rajaton), Jonathan Minkoff (SingStrong.org, Blue Jupiter), Judy Fontana, Tobias Hug (The Swingle Singers), Christine Liu (Vocalasia), Tine Fris (Postyr), Bill Hare (CASA director and recording legend) and Jake Moulton (The Housejacks). One big difference compared to the kickers: all of them are not only great masters of their trade, but intelligent, thoughtful and really cool people.
4) A Triple P from the North
Papaya, Pust and Postyr – the line-up of Friday night’s opening concert seemed to be selected by some alphabetical logic. The first letter is however their only similarity. Maybe except the fact that this first night perfectly represented the fantastic level that Northern European groups have reached today. Papaya (DK) brought the sound and the motion of African music to Ridehuset, Pust (NOR) presented their unique kind of contemporary folk-based vocal music and Postyr, also from Denmark, launched their new album, new website and new music video. Four of the five singers in the group also being members of AAVF host choir Vocal Line, they presented an amazing fusion of popular songwriting, experimental electronics and no fear of including a cello or an acoustic guitar if they think it fits. Tine, Line, Andreas, Kristoffer and Anders were just following their concept of “singing outside the box.” It became clear again: Future innovation in vocal music will certainly be driven by groups from the Northern European countries.
4) Meeting Jens Johansen
Jens is the “spiritus rector” of what we today experience as the Danish school of “rhythmic choir music”. For more than two decades he has worked with students and his choir Vocal Line. Today, groups like The New Voxnorth, Vox 11, Papaya and Postyr represent the second generation of Danish contemporary vocal brilliance. And while these groups shine with flawless blending and a rhythmic precision unheard of in Europe, Jens has remained as calm, moderate and friendly as when I first met him 15 years ago. His personal achievements in vocal music and in setting up the Aarhus Vocal Festival again cannot be praised often enough.
5) France exists!
The French don’t use the term a cappella. And despite being one of the biggest countries of the European Union, France has no more than half a dozen contemporary vocal groups. It was a pleasure talking to Céline Morel (CEPRAVOI) and Thierry Lalo (Les Voice Messengers) and learning more about their will to develop new ways of vocal and choral music in France. It would be so great to find people like them in each and every European country and have them exchange ideas on a regular basis.
6) His Bobbyness’ Masterclass
Rarely have I seen 500 people in one room being so focused, so involved, so intently listening. Bobby McFerrin, giving a masterclass to Jim Daus Hjernoe‘s group “The New Vox North”, is personalized inspiration. He knows how to tell a story and he knows how to create music that is never pretentious but always fascinating. He is funny and serious, very direct but never patronizing. And he stayed with us longer than one would have expected, watching workshops and competitions. Bobby McFerrin is the single most influential person in contemporary vocal music. Or – as Peder Karlsson put it: “For me there was life before and life after Bobby.”
7) Learning from a Real Role Model
Speaking of luminaries, who would not think of Peder Karlsson? 26 years as baritone with The Real Group and endless experience both in singing and being a teacher give him natural authority. He is a master of combining the challenge of thinking out of the box with pragmatic action. For me, the work with him on a European framework for vocal, a cappella and choral music has been a highly intensive learning process how this art form has evolved from the first pioneer groups to the vocal music movement we see today.
8) 40 Minutes with the Best Rhythmic Choir of the World
Superlatives are to be treated with care. Not in this case: Vocal Line, the Danish choir conducted by Jens Johansen has reached a level of artistry that is simply outstanding. I must admit, I’m not the one who is getting easily overwhelmed by a concert experience. But the first set of the festival’s main concert (just Vocal Line, without Bobby yet) moved me to tears. You must see and hear this group of singers. If you don’t have a heart of stone, you will realize that this is what vocal music and music in general is all about. Spiritual moments in Aarhus. Enough said.
9) The European Voices Association (EVA) kickoff meeting
For about 18 months seven vocal music activists have worked on a common vision for an organisational structure for European vocal, a cappella and choral music. And on the last day of AAVF the “core team” presented a first rough idea of how this network could be developed. Despite the inhuman timing of the meeting (9am – on the morning after the final festival party) more than 50 participants learnt how the idea came about (Florian Städtler), what European diversity means for us (Tobias Hug), what the higher purpose of EVA could be (Peder Karlsson), what the three content “bubbles” information, networking and education could look like (Volker Bauer), why it is important for all vocal music activists to be part of the team (Tilo Beckmann) and what the next steps towards EVA will be. By the way, the meeting itself started with a collective song directed by AAVF host Jim Daus Hjernoe, also a member of the preliminary team. One more happy moment and hopefully a milestone in the development of European A Cappella.
10) The Vocal Jog #1
Being a passionate runner I try to have my running gear with me whenever I’m on the road. There’s no better way to both get an impression of the city you are staying and getting over the side effects of an after show party. Sunday morning, May 8th, was supposed to be the day of the first “Vocal Jog”: A little run around the beautiful city of Aarhus. Friday night, it really seemed as if I had summoned a true dream team featuring Tine Fris, Line Groth (both with Postyr) and my sandbox friend Tobias Hug, who loved the idea of doing the Vocal Jog just before the Morning Singing with Bobby McFerrin. Well, and this was the only very small disappointment at AAFV 2011: Vocal Jog #1, starting at 7:30 on Sunday morning took place – but no one came…excexpt me. Well, even without Line, Tine & Tobi it was wonderful jogging down to the sea, through the forest and on the streets of Aarhus. And they promised to be there next time. You are my witness.
Have you been in Aarhus and want to tell the Vocal Blog readers your favourite moment? Post your comment/story/experience here on the blog, the top 3 stories have the chance to win an AAVF artist’s cd of their choice.