Erika Sunnegårdh

Stockholm, 25 November 2013

Life is messy.

And it is taking me a lifetime to learn that there is no point in resisting that fact. No point in spending time and energy trying to sort things into manageable compartments – comprehensible, portable, neat or tidy. Failure is inevitable. And frankly, I’d rather fail at something rather more dramatic and glamorous; like singing Verdi beautifully, learning to tango, or making a perfect salmon soufflé…

The only way to deal with the messiness of life is to embrace it. Invite the madness in and stand unapologetically in the middle of the gushing river of circumstances, considerations and complexities. And attempt to allow others, even the people we love the most and want to protect from confusion and upset, to stand there… in their own personal river, too.

I have reached a few amazing milestones in the past month. I made my official debut at the Royal Opera in Stockholm – my home town. It’s not the MET, or Vienna, or Munich… It’s my home town where the expectations – for better and worse – are riddled with personal feelings and investment. There is the perception of the Swedish “law of conformity”… meaning, don’t think you’re special, and don’t stand out too, too much.

And juxtaposed, is a mass of positive expectation, that somehow I would live up to the International career with which I am associated in Swedish media. And then there is the portrait of Birgit Nilsson that greets you every time you enter the stage – complete with Turandot costume, which of course is the role I am singing here.

Daunting, for sure… but cool! And so far, it has gone super-well and been such a blast!


The second milestone has been releasing my first album. Self-produced, financed and released, it is a project of mammoth proportions for a working artist to pull off, and it has indeed had me hanging on for dear life for months now.

But now the album has finally hit the market! And I yoga-breathed my way through the first public viewing of the aria-video to Beethoven’s Fidelio – which was surprisingly terrifying (!!!)… And I am crossing my fingers for a successful crowd-sourcing project on, which ends this coming week-end.

I have spent more of my personal money, energy, blood, sweat and tears on this project than I can quite wrap my head around – and many times each day (for pretty much a whole year!) I have questioned why I felt so compelled to do it, how I would keep up with the demands, and ultimately, what purpose it would serve…

There is a plethora of aria-albums out there. Most find their way to the bottom of the bin within weeks of release. So why put so many of my personal assets at stake to add yet another to the pile?

The answer came suddenly, and took me by surprise.

Someone very dear to me is spending his last days or weeks with us here. Cancer is taking him away from us too early, but oddly there is peace and acceptance in his presence, and an enormous amount of dignity and grace in his preparation to transition. He has always been that for me… peace and acceptance, grace and dignity. Not without demands or standards to uphold, but holding a level of acknowledgment and affirmation that can only come from someone who has accepted life in the face of messiness and profound complexity.

More than anyone I have ever known, he has been my silent beacon towards the artistic life – no words have ever been necessary on the subject!! – and no one else has ever been so calm and assured when looking at me. In his eyes I have always seen reflected my own potential, innate goodness and lovability… and his trust that whatever I encountered along the way would be handled, or experienced…as an inevitable part of being alive. Never with worry – more like the suspense of having to wait for the next chapter…

A few days ago, my visit at the hospice residence interrupted him while listening to my CD. He was focusing so hard on my voice, wanting to take in every detail…saying he would listen to more intently to the “music” later…

And in that instant, the voices of worry and doubt that have plagued me from within were silenced.

The messiness of putting myself in the financial risk zone, of gambling with my creative reputation, of entering the arena of “the big boys” and producing my heart’s desire into the world… suddenly it occurred to me simply as a precursor to delivering my songs to his room. That’s all.

And, it’s everything!

Trusting the path, no matter how covered by messiness, is the work of life, I believe. And when you get the chance to make it an offering – an offering towards the communion of kindred souls – then Life Itself has made good use of you…

My heart is full.

Words fail.

Toronto, 22 May, 2013

There is this period of forming, of pregnancy, of things going within and searching for form, that shuts you up… Silence seems the only appropriate response to creation finding new pathways.

At work there is always the awareness of this stage in the process. The point at which nothing has yet been grounded. Nothing yet expressed. Everything floats in the no man’s land between concept and expectation. An excruciating state to inhabit. And very difficult to share.
And yet, we do share this experience with our colleagues. For better or worse, they become, must become (!), our trusted allies.

I have reflected a lot lately on the key parts of my process which challenge most my choice of confidantes. (I say that, as if I always have a choice of these people, which of course isn’t so!!) I think all artists have certain parts of their work within which they feel particularly vulnerable, and for me they are the first time I put my voice to a new role in the presence of another human being – i.e., my musical coach and/or voice teacher; and the second, is the moment of taking a conversation about a character and the basics of the director’s blocking/staging and trying to breathe actual life into her.

These three people – my coach, my teacher, and my director – are the witnesses to my existence as an artist. They are mid-wives in my repeated re-birth. There is nothing scarier, or more humbling, than attempting to take the step from private person to public artist. As an artist you are by definition saying, “I am willing, I am needing, to put on display for public consumption, the most intimate aspects of life that my senses can register”…

The people in my life who support my getting to that point are individuals I simply love and revere more than I could ever express.

A great coach, teacher or director isn’t just someone with fantastic skills and good ideas. If they ever end up actually impacting the quality of an artist’s work in a positive way, it is because they are able to “hold” the space into which an artist must move in order to interact intuitively and fearlessly with the aspects and energies that have been prepared.

The opposite of a great witness is a person who stands in the position of mid-wife, who claims to be one, who gets paid to fill that purpose… but who lacks the self-control to stay out of the artist’s space; someone who always thinks they know better, and who has not made peace with their role as “preparer”. Naturally, any great teacher or director also inhabits their own creative space – brilliantly and successfully – otherwise they wouldn’t have gotten to the position they’re in. But the truly great ones have developed the humility to sense the moment when silence needs to be observed; the invisible line where preparation is transcended, and we release into the alchemy of performance.

I could name names, but you know who you are…
Consider this your standing ovation!