Erika Sunnegårdh

Wiesbaden, 2 February, 2016

Eleven years ago, as I started my career, I also started this page on my website.  It was, at the time, actually sort of novel.  There were blogs out there, but hardly any in the field of classical music, and those that existed were mostly chronicles of travels and concert success.

I never set out to be terribly original, or to appeal to the general public, for that matter.  More so, to keep in touch, from an honest and deeply considered perspective, with people who for some reason had sought me out online.

In the past couple of years, I have found it increasingly difficult to grasp a hold of thoughts and impressions that strike me as interesting enough to write about – or important enough to me personally, that I need to write about them.  And to assume that a blog has any significant relevance to anyone else is folly, I think.

Juxtaposed to “finding something interesting enough to write about” is the daily bombardment of experiences and feelings so complex and murky (!) that writing about them is, simply put, too overwhelming.

However, I have been studying the materials of a couple of significant women over the past couple of years.  Jean Houston, anthropologist and consultant to many creative people over the past 60 years, said about creativity:  there comes a point in the pregnancy stage of the creative process, when NOT expressing what is brewing in your soul will make you feel nausea…

!!!

So.  Enough nausea!

It is about Self-Expression – the particular nature of it at any point in time, and the need for it to be shared in order to become “real” or “learned”, as to form an actual part of ones’ being, or life testament.

This question of Self-Expression is one that has, once again, started taking a more prominent place not only through my singing, but also in all the procedures around the singing as well as how I think about life…  I’m not sure how to explain it, but at the beginning, from as far back as I can remember, the actual practice of singing was always where I felt most like my Self. It was as if, during singing, I could be me, be at ease with me, sense no contradiction between me and what I was doing or where I was… like a time-out from the noisy question marks about life and the world.

From an individual’s perspective, I think this is actually the purpose of practicing an art form, and why it is so important for children (and adults!), whether they have a future in the arts or not – It develops your relationship with your Self as the source and center of your own creative powers, as well as in perspective and relationship to the world around you.

Sometime around my second year of conservatory, this Self-Expression was slowly replaced by a conversation about viability, usefulness and marketability.  Any and all aspects of self-determination were carefully (or sometimes adamantly!) coached right OUT of my (and everyone else’s!) music-making.

This is, of course, is the biggest mistake an educator could make…  Dumbing down the student to the lowest common denominator – something that fits a system formula, one that the least imaginative casting director or least educated audience member can comprehend.  It is a disservice not only to the budding artist, but to the entire future of the performing arts; particularly true for opera – an art form that holds our interest and fascination largely by virtue of the personalities and unique qualities of its individual artists… Cookie-cutter singers simply can’t hold anyone’s interest for very long.

Unfortunately, in America, and now sometimes also in Europe, LOUD is the only currency people understand.  This generic type of “loud” – both in content and volume! – comes at the expense of introspection, maturation, fine-tuned sensitivity and truth-telling.

LOUD is only a small part of the human story, albeit it one most of the world is engaged in most of the time.  But does that mean we should strive to compete on the level of decibel-count – as a baseline of “acceptable vocal size”?

And, as some major stars insist on sometimes singing softly, shall we really accept the practice of sticking microphones on them, rather than quieting their surroundings enough that OUR inner-most feelings can be perceived – naturally?

We are absolutely losing the plot on this issue…

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Like many others, I have struggled over the past couple of years to “place” my Self in perspective to, and in relationship with, the world at large.  There are the personal experiences in life; family and friends, jobs, singing, music-making… And then there is the state of the world; people suffering the effects of economic injustice, natural catastrophes, war, migration, religious convictions clashing, selfishness, greed… While these things have always been a part of the human condition, it is new for our generation to not be able to “avoid” being affected by the noise and chaos it brings; also into the personal sphere of the, so to speak, “local” Self.

Rappers and writers put their words to good use – mirroring, commenting on, reacting to reality as it is, as it is imagined, as it is suffered and mourned.  And while the stories of Elektra, Salome, Fidelio, Flying Dutchman all have aspects of xenophobia, greed, vengeance, abuse of political power, personal vulnerability, anxiety, projection and transference of personal purpose… there is, for me personally, an increasing dis-connect, or gap, between what I get to portray onstage and the lack of impact I experience, on a personal level, of that work.

Many people I know are searching for meaningful ways to be part of the solution as it concerns human suffering, as we stumble over it daily on our way to work.  Everyone I know harbors anxieties about the changing rules of the game of being alive, and the seemingly uncontrollable waves of violence of heart, mind and action that rip through our now enormous, global troupe of human players.

How does one continue to live out the talents and expression of the “local” Self, while still heeding the call for action on behalf of the global community?

It is still my belief that Culture and Arts is our Purpose – with a capital P!
That they are the Promised Land at the end of the dark tunnel. And that really does require that someone keep the flame burning, the lights on, the hearth ready with nourishment for the day when everyone returns “home”…

But if that “home” is to have any purpose at all, it needs to be one inhabited by an uncompromising spirit of Truth, Authenticity, and yes!, LOVE!

If we’ve already replaced those things with the industrial model of business, profitability, expendable/replaceable machinery (artists!), and bigger is better (LOUD!)… dictated by a patriarchy preoccupied with self-aggrandizement, then we have lost the good fight before we even get started.

What artist committed to Truth, Beauty, and the Salvation of the Human Spirit would give his/her life to a business like that?

The reason I haven’t written for so long is that I’ve been trying, erroneously, to make peace (!!) with the changing and hard to swallow values and conditions of the job I do – the career-table, at which I worked so long and hard to earn a seat.  But perhaps I have been misguided in my reactions.

Disillusionment is an inevitability of the examined life.  The past few years have served up a healthy serving of that in every area of mine – family, friendships, work-related matters.

But disillusionment is not here to beat us down – though that is what it does at first! – It is here to sober us up, cause us to question our assumptions and dis-engage our autopilot settings, to discover and affirm our values – and above all, call us into increasingly authentic and responsible focus and action.

For me, part of that is daring to pave new and independent paths in my own life and expression, and part of it is showing up authentically and vulnerably – without resignation or bitterness – INSIDE the system.

Daunting and occasionally terrifying, for sure… But a life without Love and Truth is just barnyard suffering.