What’s it like to be airlifted from your university in Sweden to join the faculty at Wesleyan for a semester? Erik Westberg was delighted to tell us. He is the professor of choral conducting and choral singing at the Pitea College of Music, Lulea University of Technology in Sweden and is visiting this semester conducting Wesleyan’s Concert Choir and teaching choral conducting.
He’s here on a grant from STINT, the Swedish Foundation for International Cooperation in Research and Higher Education, which supports a visiting professor program with the idea, as Westberg says, “to bring ideas from here back to Sweden.” Historically, the program has selected history and literature professors–Erik is the first music professor to be chosen. A list of professors is sent to American universities, who then have the opportunity to choose a professor for a residency. As Westberg puts it, Angel Gil-Ordóñez, director of the Wesleyan Orchestra, and Krishna Winston, Dean of the Arts and Humanities, saw his name and “decided why don’t we bring this Swedish guy here?”
Westberg says, this year’s choir “had auditions… In the beginning I was a little bit worried about what was going to happen if no one showed up…because [the group] is my instrument. But it turned out that some 40 students applied and we chose 22 of them for the choir.”
When asked about his impressions of Wesleyan so far, he noted with appreciation “that students come from different cultures, from different countries… different backgrounds” and commented on the broad range of their interests. “Maybe one difference between my student chamber choir in Pitea is that a lot of the students are going to be music majors, maybe teachers in voice, or piano teachers,” he said, noting that Wesleyan students who participate in the choir come from a variety of departments. Invoking the Swedish word “smörgåsbord” to describe the freedom to explore academically at Wesleyan, that ability “to find your own way,” as Westberg puts it, is something he is keen to talk about back at home.
In addition to taking away an appreciation for the liberal arts college experience, quite a different scene from his home university with 700 students in the music program and where he is in charge of four concert choirs, Westberg has been a valuable and instructive presence for the Wesleyan community. Hansel Tan ‘10, Westberg’s teaching assistant, says “the music we’ve made together with Westberg as a choir has been unlike anything else I’ve heard on campus: in an extremely good way. His genteel nature rubs off easily, and deep inside everybody wants to be a Swede!” Looking to integrate his own expertise within the Wesleyan context, in October the choir performed an evening of Swedish choral music combined with a tribute to John Cage and his work at Wesleyan. This Wednesday, Westberg’s Pitea Chamber Choir of Sweden will join the Wesleyan Concert Choir to put on a collaborative concert, Jul, Jul! A Winter Concert of Choral Music. Westberg says about a third of the repertoire will be a joint effort of both choirs. The Wesleyan choir will perform selections by Swedish and Norwegian composers, the Swedish Choir will perform the Lucia procession, and part of the concert will include a sing-along with the audience. Westberg sees the concert as an opportunity to exchange ideas and hopes his Swedish students will get to know the students here.
We are indeed fortunate to have Westberg in residence: not only has his experience been informative for his own career, but his presence has given our students new skills and perspectives, as well as exposure to new and challenging music. We hope you’ll join us for this evening of musical and cultural exchange.
The Wesleyan Concert Choir and The Pitea Chamber Choir (Pitea, Sweden): Jul, Jul! A Winter Concert of Choral Music
Wednesday, December 9, 7pm
And, a special performance by The Pitea Chamber Choir:
Thursday, December 10, 7 pm
South Congregational Church
9 Pleasant Street (across from the South Green)