Erika Sunnegårdh

19 June 2005

I have had the great fortune, although I have not always appreciated it as such, to have a very long period of my life be outside of music, aspiring towards a career, but needing, for practical reasons, to engage fully in other jobs and activities. Although I have known since my early twenties that I wanted to sing professionally, a long series of events and obstacles have led me down a rather slow path toward making my living singing.

It is easy to feel overwhelmed and excited by the events of the past year. But, making my professional debut at age 38 has meant that I have spent almost 18 years ‘trying’ before I got to this point. And, by all indication, this is just the beginning of another steep learning curve.

I have had many ‘day jobs’, including tour guiding, being a personal assistant in investment banking, translating Swedish into English for businesses, teaching music to children, singing in church – but mostly as a waitress in restaurants and in catering. The thing most ‘day jobs’ have in common is that they are all about serving people. And, they tend not to leave a lot of time or energy left over for other activities, say singing…

I am painfully aware now that I am working in my ‘dream job’, that most of my colleagues have spent the past 15-20 years eating, sleeping, and living music. While I have served thousands of plates of food, they have turned every stone to find just the right way to sing this phrase or that. Part of me envies them that. But, the bigger (or louder!) part of me is really clear that we all come to public performance bringing our own unique experiences, and our own unique gifts.

There is no point in trying to compete for the distinction of being thought ‘the best’ in music. The point is rather whether one has something to say, something to give, a point of view to offer. And to do that is a distinctly personal effort. One that has little to do with technique or accomplishment (although these come in handy) — but more to do with singing on a platform of a life that contains all the shades of experience one might want to convey to all the different people in the audience.

I think every young artist dreams of singing to big audiences, and gaining their approval, whatever that means. I’m not sure it’s completely healthy to get that opportunity too early. At least it wouldn’t have been for me.

Now that I am finally having the opportunity to sing to many, I am constantly reminded of what it means to me to sing to a few. There are only a few times in my life when I have felt as needed, or as appreciated, or as meaningfully alive, as when I have sung Amazing Grace for the 110th time, at a funeral where there were the priest, myself, my organist, one or two nurses — and the person whose life we were there to celebrate and honor.

Just as I believe the world will change only one mind at a time, I believe that the purpose of music, beyond entertaining, is to move and inspire one heart at a time. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to practice that a lot over the past eighteen years.

Besides having the time of my life, this ‘new’ life feels much like what I’ve been up to all along – expanded!

I am incredibly moved and humbled by being able to share it with you!