This interview was done by Jeanne Bainville, who is a producer at INECC (Mission Voix Lorraine), Metz, France. –> link to French version
– Peder, tell us a little bit about yourself and your journey.
When I was in high school, I was very focused at getting top grades, while also playing guitar in a jazz fusion band. I come from a family whose main interest is politics, discussions and intellectual pursuits. I think everyone expected me to study at a top university and have a successful career. I liked school. But life had other plans for me. After high school graduation, I spent most of my time playing the guitar and writing songs. My girlfriend insisted that I would apply to the Royal Academy of Music in Stockholm. I followed her advice.
I got accepted into the music teacher program, without having a plan other than to follow my instincts. A friend introduced me to contemporary classical music, and to composition. I followed that path for a while, including two years in the composition class at the Academy of Music. I also started an a cappella group together with four friends from high school. This group, that we called “The Real Group”, quickly got a reputation for singing complex jazzy arrangements. One thing led to another, and in 1989 we graduated as a vocal ensemble from the Academy of Music with a “diploma”, which was the highest musical education in Sweden at that time. No non-classical musician had been accepted into the diploma level before us. We did many concerts while studying at the Academy, in Sweden as well as in other countries, so we were well prepared for the professional situation that followed immediately after school.
The timing was perfect for this kind of group to become popular in Sweden in the late 80s. We sang at jazz clubs, festivals, concert houses, and at corporate events. There were very few professional a cappella groups around at this time, so we had to figure out many things for ourselves; how to write arrangements, how to practise in an efficient way, how to give feedback to each other, how to make a cappella recordings, and so forth. Three of us had studied music pedagogy, so we gave workshops and masterclasses from early on. Due to the distribution of tasks that developed over the years within the group, it was my responsibility to lead the planning of workshops and seminar contents. That was an important factor in my later transition into musical education.
In October 2010, after twenty-six years, and over two thousand performances and sixteen CDs, I did my last concert with The Real Group. I wanted to teach; to lead seminars, workshops and coachings with vocal groups and choirs. Again, life had other plans for me.
Perpetuum Jazzile is a choir from Slovenia, or XXL vocal group, as they prefer to call themselves. They have been singing arrangements of popular music since the mid 80s, in various styles; pop, jazz, latin, funk, disco. Due to a combination of intense social skills, intelligent arrangements, talent and motivation to develop their own distinct sound and musical identity, they had already become a household name in Slovenia when one of their live concert YouTube videos (“Africa”) got viral in 2008. The wheels of fortune began to spin, and doors to the international music scene opened up for them. Towards the end of 2010, they were looking for a musical director with international and professional experience of a cappella music, and contacted me. I had no previous experience of choir leadership, apart from workshops and coachings. But the attraction of this group was so strong that I decided to go for it.
For three unforgettable years, I had the unique privilege of leading this fabulous group of singers through a constant process of pushing their boundaries of musical expression and identity as a group. We toured the USA twice, and Germany several times. Life with Perpetuum Jazzile is a constant stream of activities; weekly rehearsals, recordings, rehearsal weekends, late night parties, corporate gigs, concerts, repertoire development, concert program design, discussions, arguments. Friendship. Love. It was incredibly fun, frustrational and fulfilling; an intense outburst of collective creative passion that gave all of us who were in the group at that time a unique learning experience for life, I think. Looking back at it, I would say that I was a “facilitator of co-creation” rather than having a “musical director”-type of role. The Real Group had always had a rotated-initiative, open leadership style, and that was the culture that I brought with me to Slovenia.
In November 2013, Perpetuum Jazzile celebrated their 30th anniversary with two sold-out concerts in Arena Stozice, a 10000-seat venue in Ljubljana. About half of the contents in that concert program was based on ideas that came from the singers themselves, due to a long-term co-creative ideas development process that I had initiated in 2011. They knew that everyone in the group had been a part of creating the concert program, with their voices, of course, but also in the ideas development process. This knowing was a very important factor for laying a solid foundation of singers’ self-esteem. That would not have been possible, I am sure, if I had followed a standard top-down management leadership style.
In the beginning of the spring of 2014, after working with rotated leadership for a couple of years, I felt that the time had come for Perpetuum Jazzile to make a transition into a system of teamwork leadership, rather than relying on one leader for direction of musical development. So I called for a meeting with the persons I had in mind for a new musical leadership team, and said to them that the time had come for them to take over, and that I would quit Perpetuum Jazzile the next week. After an initial shock-surprise response, they decided to grab this opportunity and step up to a higher level of responsibility. And today, Perpetuum Jazzile functions as an “organic choir”, or “self-managed system”.
“Leo Sings! – diversity of singing practises in Europe” was a series of conferences in 2014, initiated and led by Stéphane Grosclaude from Plate-forme Interregionale in France. In May 2014, there was a Leo Sings conference at the Royal Academy of Music in Aalborg (RAMA). After participating in a workshop with Jim Daus Hjernøe, I accepted Jim’s offer to join the team of RAMA teachers. I began to teach at RAMA Vocal Center in January 2015; my first experience of being part of a music conservatory program as a teacher. Among other things, Jim gave me the task to come up with a framework for artistic leadership. “How can I teach that?”, I asked Jim, to which he responded “you figure that out”. Needless to say, RAMA Vocal Center also functions as a self-managed system. That’s one of the things that I love about teaching there.
In the summer of 2013, I read “The Ascent of Humanity” by Charles Eisenstein. At that time, I had become increasingly uncomfortable with the dysfunctionalities of civilization, including the shadow aspects of the commercial music industry. How is it possible to remain sane in this culture? In my opinion, Eisenstein’s book gives important clues to how and when humanity chose a path that has led to the collective insanity that is becoming increasingly obvious today. Just open a newspaper or read a random Facebook discussion thread and I think you know what I mean.
In the autumn of 2014, I read Naomi Klein’s book about climate change, “This Changes Everything”. There was something in me that clicked after reading these and other books. I began to hang out with all kinds of people involved in environment activism in Sweden; people from the Transition Movement, mining protesters, people involved in indigenous’ rights, and so forth. I met Polly Higgins, “Earth’s lawyer”, who wrote the definition of Ecocide Law (legal duty of care of ecosystems). Since 2016, I serve as the chairman of End Ecocide Sweden. I am also involved in the network Rights of Nature (legal personhood for an ecosystem; a river, a forest, a mountain, and so forth).
Rights of Nature provides a constructive way forward in facilitating a global shift of values; from a world-view where we see Nature as a provider of services to humans, to a world-view where we see ourselves as part of a larger whole, where everything is interconnected. Some people call it “circular economy”, which is to say that we give our gifts to Nature, and receive Nature’s gifts back. Other people call it “the more beautiful world our hearts know is possible”. In this world, to produce plastic is an impossibility, for example. No organisms can digest plastic, and therefore plastic not a gift to Nature. When we live from a worldview of give-and-receive, then people will no longer want to produce nor use plastic.
To me, co-creative vocal music is about exactly the same thing – giving and receiving, at the same time. Through singing together, you may get a direct experience of being a “cell” in a larger organism. You give your voice to the group and you receive music back.
– As Artistic Director of the “Singing Roadshow” workshops, can you describe in a few words this project with its experimental concept?
To collect experiences from people of various kinds of expertise and share that with a group of singers, music teachers and choir leaders.
– Specialists will surround you for this adventure, who are they? What will they be able to bring to the trainees?
For details, I recommend the description of each teacher.
To me, one of the most important aspects of “Singing Roadshow” is to get a taste of music styles and expressions that you may or may not be very familiar with from before. I think it is important to push the boundaries of one’s musical experiences, while at the same time get a sense of what it takes to assimilate a new musical style into your repertoire of musical expressions.
It works in a similar way like when you learn a new language. Before you can speak French, for example, you need to learn French.
To me, it doesn’t work very well when singers with a classical background, for example, perform a pop or jazz song (in some circles, this is called “light music”) without first having developed an intuitive sense of the phrasing and style of interpretation of that particular style. I think it’s important to respect and understand something of the attitudes, manners of expression, and the historical background to a style that you are beginning to learn, when you perform music of different musical styles.
The rehearsal process is a different matter, I think. When you practise, feel free try out everything you feel like. Take your time. Interact with musicians who embody the expression of a particular musical style. Eventually you will get it.
– How do you view actions such as these, implemented by the INECC?
INECC promotes diversity of expressions, based on a mindset of sharing of experiences. This is different from the standard old-school approach, I think, where education in culture still has a lot to do with training young people to conform to a limited range of expressions, where the teacher points out to the student what is “right” and what is “wrong”. It is 2018 now… but I still see a lot of the old-school attitude prevail.
Or if I put it this way: we have reached the end of a worldview that promotes mono-cultures. To hold one culture over another means death for culture itself.
Every culture is based on diversity. Every person is made of diversity. In the words of the American poet Walt Whitman: “I contain multitudes”.
– Finally, this internship will take place at the Autre Canal in Nancy, an essential place and stage for contemporary music in Lorraine* (within the Grand-Est* Region), isn’t this motivating for you? What would be the word to make musicians/singers want to participate?
Let’s enjoy the moment and share our curiosity about things we may not have experienced before.
I have never been at the Autre Canal in Nancy, and to be honest, I have no previous experience of contemporary music in Lorraine. I’m looking forward to hearing your music, and I hope there is something in the music that I will provide that will inspire you.