“How are you all doing? Do you know all the lyrics by heart and are you wearing light underwear?” Preparations for this year's Lucia of the Swedish Church in Manhattan are in full swing. The big day of course, Saturday, Dec. 13.
Basses, sopranos, altos - clear your throats and stand straight! Lage Forsberg is the cantor at the Swedish Church, and this year marks his first Lucia-preparation here. This is the last rehearsal before the Swedish Church’s traditional Lucia Celebration, which is held at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in New York on December 13. This is also the only rehearsal for both the church’s choir and the Lucia Choir together; they have been practicing separately prior to today. This is it, as they say. If Forsberg feels a little panicky, he hides it well.
“Mm-mm-mm…mm-mm-mm…,” he urges his singers in a warm-up.
“Mm-mm-mm…mm-mm-mm…,” they repeat.
“Now, how are the men doing?”
Forsberg manages a few jokes while he gets the singers going, men and women of all ages, even a few children. All their eyes are on him.
“Dra-a-ama…dra-a-ama…dra-a-ama…,” they sing, drawing out the ‘a’.
“Don’t forget to roll the ‘r’s’,” says Forsberg.
A traditional Lucia celebration has a Lucia and a procession of tärnor, stjärngossar, tomtenissar, and pepparkaksgubbar, and they all have to have good voices, because a Lucia choir has quite a range of songs to perform: from the lighter “Lusse lelle" and “Staffan Stalledräng” to heavy-duty “O Helga Natt”. That’s quite a big gap to straddle as a singer. Fortunately the choir at the Swedish Church is in good shape under Forsberg’s baton, and fortified with the Lucia Choir they sound wonderful. For a song like “O Helga Natt”, with its operatic finish, a strong man’s voice is needed, and Forsberg has found just that in Daniel Alling.
“I’m a USA-correspondent for Sveriges Radio,” Alling told me, “but I came by and talked to Lage in September, I think it was, and then I auditioned.”
Alling takes a sip of water and joins the stage for a rehearsal of “O Helga Natt”, accompanied by Ingrid Emanuelsson at the piano. It sounds quite beautiful.
“You don’t want it too treacly,” he says afterwards.
No you don’t.
“We didn’t do the ending like this last year,” a female singer adds.
“Forget about last year,” counters Forsberg with a big smile. “I’m the conductor now! Also be sure to go back a bit on ‘frälsning.’”
They sing it again, holding back a bit on ‘frälsning,’ and with the wonderful crescendo at the end of the last verse it does sound just as stunning as “O Helga Natt” is supposed to sound. Forsberg must be happy with his singers. Now all they need to do is iron their white gowns and keep them spotless for next Saturday’s three sold-out Lucia performances. And drink hot tea with honey. Oh, and remember to wear light underwear, of course.
For more info, see http://www.swedishchurch.net
Text & photos: Eva Stenskär