"We’ve found with this virtual choir that, while some singers may be a little tentative to start with, the digital interface allows them to feel comfortable in their own home and thereby contribute to the experience with more gusto and confidence!"

Hattie Coupe, Creative Projects Manager, Sinfonia Viva

Sinfonia Viva have worked with SO Festival and PASSAGE Festival to create an international choir, welcoming participants from the UK, Denmark and Sweden. British Council spoke to Hattie Coupe, the Creative Projects Manager, to find out more about making music across the North Sea. 

Why did Sinfonia Viva want to connect the UK with Sweden and Denmark through singing? 

We initially set up this choir during the summer of 2020, when the impact of the pandemic meant that much of the face-to-face activity for the SO and PASSAGE Festivals, which usually take place annually across coastal towns of Lincolnshire and in Denmark and Sweden, had to move online. A choir seemed a good way to allow people to easily engage in performance across the three countries. Sinfonia Viva worked with the festivals to bring to the fore something of quality aimed at people of all abilities and who may have felt isolated. This is the second time we’ve run the choir, mainly because it was so popular last summer.  

Where do most of the participants come from? 

Mainly from the UK, especially around the East Midlands and Derbyshire. People here tend to know Sinfonia Viva as an organisation. We are actively seeking more singers from Sweden and Denmark, especially as the theme for the choir is ‘Tales Across the North Sea’. 

How do you choose who to accept?

The choir is free to join and open to all abilities. We meet once a week to practice. People may join from now until the grand finale, namely the concert at the end of March. 

You’re running this for a second time since the first lockdown. What’s different?

Singers can again perform with a Grammy-nominated orchestra and experience the joy writing their music. What is new for 2021 is that we are exploring themes of folk tales and myths exchanged across the North Sea. Together we will write, compose and record a brand new song, as well as wrapping voices around some existing pieces.

What’s helpful about being linked to the PASSAGE and SO Festivals?

The quality and longevity of SO and PASSAGE helps us to root the choir and to connect to participants internationally. Both festivals are about bringing people together from different backgrounds and offering creative experiences to those in the UK, Denmark and Sweden who might otherwise not have regular or easy access. All three nations share a rich and varied history; we want to highlight this through music. 

After the performance in March, what next?

Although it’s a shame for it to come to an end, I believe the limited time of the project gives it a momentum and shape that participants can take on. I would personally love to see the return of the choir, and reconnect with participants perhaps as part of the next SO or PASSAGE festival. 

Can you describe the repertoire?

The choir practice has been divided into three parts. Firstly, working towards a new composition based on myths and legends of the North Sea; secondly, learning folk songs which connect to the theme, and thirdly a performance. The singers are working with the creative composer Jack Ross and the choir leader Caroline Swaby, breaking into different rehearsal ‘rooms’ to share ideas and contribute to the creative process.

What are the myths and folk tales that seem to connect the 3 nations?

Something that’s really captured the interest of the singers, as well as our choir team, is the idea of escapism through myths and legends. These are often connected to rituals during the calendar year, or the changing seasons, and seized in order to move forwards and have faith in a better world to come. We need some of this in our own lives today. As such, the ‘selkie’ has arisen as something of interest. In Norse and Celtic mythology these are mythological beings capable of therianthropy, or the notion of changing from seal to human form by shedding their skin. They are found in folktales and mythology originating from the Northern Isles of Scotland. 

Do you think we will ever return to multinational live performances?

We’d really like to. But while the impact of Covid-19 has been detrimental for live performances, it’s led to digital innovations which sometimes means that more people from more places and diverse backgrounds can access art in ways that they previously did not. We’ve found with this virtual choir that, while some singers may be a little tentative to start with, the digital interface allows them to feel comfortable in their own home and thereby contribute to the experience with more gusto and confidence.