Singing in the choir at Christmas meant everything to the minister’s daughter from a small town in Arkansas in the United States. That spirit continued to move renowned soprano Barbara Hendricks, whether she was on an opera stage somewhere in the world, broadcasting network TV holiday specials or recording one of her dozens of albums.
With the release of her latest Christmas album, “Shout for Joy – Spiritual Christmas” Hendricks recalls some of the spirit that inspired her to pursue a singing career in the first place.
“Christmas is my favorite time of the year – all about values, solidarity and peace that go way beyond religion,” she explains.
“We are a lazy species and have to constantly work at staying on the right road. I work hard to instill in my own family the essence of Christmas. And I can send that message directly through music.”
Hendricks had originally planned on becoming a doctor or lawyer, first graduating with a degree in chemistry and mathematics. But as she was completing her studies, she was discovered by chance at age 19 and invited to the Aspen Music School.
Eventually, she studied opera at the renowned Julliard music school in New York, where she studied with mezzo-soprano Jennie Tourel.
From there, Hendricks’ career took off, taking her to opera houses from San Francisco to the Met, La Scala, Covent Garden and just about every opera stage around the world.
In the meantime, she moved to Europe and married a Swede, having since taken Swedish citizenship.
Hendricks is quick to praise her adopted homeland, calling Swedes “the most generous people” who “never give up”, but she admits that it can be hard to find acceptance as an outsider.
“The Swedes do not make it easy to understand them or their traditions. You must be invited in to understand those traditions, the Swedish connection to nature and the changing seasons. Getting acquainted may be difficult, but once you are invited in, that loyalty is never broken,” she says.
While Hendricks’ feelings about Christmas are heavily influenced by her childhood memories from the United States, she says she finds many parallels to her present-day celebrations of Christmas in Sweden.
“My best Christmas memories are at my grandparent’s farm. We were poor and they were subsistence farmers – only living from what they could grow themselves. Suddenly at Christmas, a sausage would appear, aunts would make pies and cake and it seemed a banquet!” she recalls.
“That sense of community in those important days in the kitchen, traditional singing, being together and lit candles are also part of the Christmas traditions in Sweden.
“It is a time I felt the most love – a time of childhood innocence that I still carry with me. That spirit and warmth that I try to replicate today.”
Hendricks’ latest attempt to bring the spirit and warmth of Christmas to a Swedish audience takes place on Saturday, December 18th as she takes the stage for a Christmas concert at Stockholm’s Engelbrekt Church.
The concert, which will be hosted by actor Michael Nyqvist of the Swedish Millennium-film trilogy, will also feature the Drottningholm Baroque Ensemble and the Drottningholm Quartet, which also played on the recently released Christmas album.
Additional performers include the Nacka Children’s Choir and Engelbrekts Chamber choir, as well as several special music guests such as blues guitarist Eric Bibb and jazz bass player Georg Riedel, perhaps best known for scoring the Astrid Lindgren movies.
In addition, the show will be simulcast live to 43 movie theatres throughout Sweden, allowing music fans across the country to experience Hendricks’ musical Christmas magic without having to travel to Stockholm.
By performing songs ranging from old Negro spirituals to jazzed-up renditions of modern holiday classics from both sides of the Atlantic, Hendricks hopes her 2010 Christmas concert will help remind listeners of the important of spirituality.
“We need spirituality in our lives. And that is not to be confused with religion and church because then you get into other issues. There is a need for meditation. There is so much noise in our world that fear easily overtakes the voices of wisdom and reason,” she explains.
“My task is to be of service to and the humble instrument of art. We speak to one another in art, take it in and it reaches us on a deeper level than stopping at our brains. The first note of a Schubert quartet makes me weep. Will always make me weep.”