Grafva kyrkokör /Skåre Cantores – Grava Curch Choir/Skåre Singers

Grava’s church choir’s rather odd double name combines an old spelling of Grava with a quasi-latin name that brings in the connection to the suburb of Skåre where most of the parishioners live. While it is likely that some sort of choral tradition existed in the church even in early times, nothing is documented earlier than the beginning of the 20th century, and that was a male-voice quartet which after a while grew into a mixed choir of about a dozen. For the greater part of the Second World War choral activity was at best sporadic, as the parish had no cantor. But in 1945 the new cantor founded the choir that exists today (although in those days it was called Grava Hembygds- och kyrkokör (Grava Community and Church Choir). Until the 1970s it remained a rather small group, but under the leadership of the next cantor, Birgitta Thörnquist, it grew in numbers, in quality and in self-confidence. As well as its local activities, the choir made, as it still does, visits to other churches throughout Värmland and beyond. In 1984 the great adventure of overseas tours began with a tentative step across the nearby border with Norway. There followed visits to Finland (1986), Denmark (1989), Norway (1992), Denmark and Germany (1995), Italy (including St Peter’s in Rome) (1997), Poland (2004), Germany (2006) and England (2009).

Under the leadership since 2006 of Hans Lassbo, Grava church choir has broadened and deepened its repertoire and is now equally at home with traditional Swedish religious and secular music and works by foreign composers from 16th century Italy and England to 21st century Estonia. During the visit to England it even grappled successfully with a Church of England Evensong, though Evensong is not a service known in Sweden, nor the chanting of psalms and canticles practised here.

Grava Church Choir

Swedish people greet the spring and summer with great eagerness after the long, cold, dark months of winter, and this is reflected in the number and beauty of the songs, both secular and religious, that Swedish composers have written in praise of those two seasons. This in turn is reflected in one of the choir’s most important annual events – the Spring Concert. Unsurprisingly there is no Summer Concert, as even the keenest amongst the singers want to get away for the holidays, or at least to their country cottages or out in their gardens. The Autumn Concert reflects the effort put in by Hans Lassbo and the choir when they return reinvigorated by their rest and possibly a weekend away in the country working on some new pieces and rediscovering those elusive top and bottom notes. After the Autumn Concert the First Sunday in Advent (arguably the most important Sunday in the Swedish Church year) and Christmas loom large, with another important concert tucked in between the former and the latter.

The choir does not sing regularly at Sunday services, although it is of course heavily involved with the great church festivals. This is reflected in the fact that the church building has no specific place set aside for the choir to sit – there is no “choir” to use the technical term for the area between the chancel and communion table at the east end and the nave where the congregation sits. Nor is the west end organ loft suitable for such a large body of singers. Instead the choir occupies either the front congregational pews, those in the south transept, or faces the congregation from the chancel. None of these solutions is particularly suitable for leading ordinary Sunday services, so of late experiment has been made with sitting in chairs set out as if there were a “choir”, with the discovery that the sound produced is quite different to that made by the choir standing in three ranks.

Chris Green

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