Happy New Year, musical friends! Welcome to Music Tasting in 2012.
I’ve been on a week-long beach holiday recently, which was a delightful way to begin the year. It’s becoming something of a tradition, actually, with a close group of friends. This is now the third year that a few of us have spent the first week of January somewhere in the general proximity of sun, surf and sand. We hire out a not-too-expensive place for the week and pass the days swimming, walking, snoozing, reading, playing cards and board games, watching movies, and cooking our own meals. This year was even hotter than usual so I think we also ate icecream on seven consecutive days (which I do believe is a personal record). Plus we’re all musicians, so usually there’s a fair bit of music chatter, singing and listening to music too. It’s a great way to kickstart the new year.
I thought I’d share a song and musical story that takes me back to our first beach holiday as a group. Although we decided to stay in Queensland this year (Rainbow Beach, up near Fraser Island), the past two vacations we’ve headed south instead. Last year was Brooms Head – or ‘The Broom’ as it is affectionately called – and 2010 was at Wooli, a tiny and remote place on the northern NSW coast, nestled down the bottom of Yuraygir National Park. It fills up during peak tourist season, but it’s a beautiful spot to idle away some days at the beach.
That year one of my friends brought a big pile of sheet music with her and we sang through a number of things – just for fun of course, as we choir geeks are prone to do on occasion. One of the pieces was called Gøta (pronounced geu-ta) by Swedish a cappella ensemble The Real Group; I was familiar with the group but not with this particular song. It’s a wordless song, but nonetheless powerful and evocative. It starts out with a simple melody over a drone and builds gradually, with harmonies coming in underneath, the soprano hitting ridiculously high top D’s, and the low bass impressively percussing away four octaves lower. I hasten to add that it’s also a bit of an earworm, and after we’d sung it a few times there was no getting it out of our heads in a hurry! It sort of became our holiday theme song, I guess you could say, the kind of thing that it was easy to default to humming while standing at the barbecue turning the sausages, or sitting on the beach gazing out at the ocean.
I actually only found out recently the history of Gøta and how it came to be written. And it’s definitely a world away from summer in an Australian coastal town. Composer Peder Karlsson, who used to be the baritone with The Real Group, writes on the score that it was inspired by the people and nature of the Faroe Islands, situated in the North Atlantic between Norway and Iceland:
“When The Real Group had a concert there in 2002, I met a very young Faroese singer named Eivør Pálsdóttir. We played guitar and sang our songs to each other, and she took me on a tour of her beautiful home village. After coming home I listened to a lot of Faroese music, especially Eivør’s records. Then early one morning I woke up with a melody in my head that sounded like nothing I had heard or written before. So I went up and recorded the melody. Then I fell asleep again and forgot about it. Later I found the track in my computer and added a B-part, where the melody indicates harmonies in contrast to the A-part. I didn’t sing the song to anyone until the spring of 2004, when I was in the Faroe Islands again, to rehearse with Eivør for some gigs later in the summer. In a little performance in Eivør’s parents’ house, I named this song Gøta, the name of their village.”
(If you prefer live performances there’s one here, although the sound starts to distort a bit a couple of minutes in.)
A long way from Wooli, that’s for sure. But maybe one day I’ll get to spend a summer holiday in the Faroe Islands instead.
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In the coming weeks and months I look forward to sharing with you some of the plans for Music Tasting during 2012. There are a few things I hope to introduce this year as the site begins to take shape and I give it some more direction. A lot of it is still in the development stage at the moment, but down the track I intend to add a few more features, including ways for readers to contribute their own musical stories and anecdotes. I’ll also begin to branch out into sharing more than just my own favourite music and my own experiences – there’s a whole world out there of people who have so beautifully expressed the power of music in words. One thing is for sure – this is just the beginning! I hope you’ll hang around.