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find: Music Norway

Margun Risa  

singer, Norway

Margun Risa, 2004

I grew up on a farm near the city of Stavanger on the south west coast of Norway. Since I was about 4 years old, I have always loved singing, but that wasn't what started my involvement in music. Actually, it was my brother's three-string guitar!

My mother found that I had music ability and so I took piano lessons from 9 until 19 years and I also played the cornet in the provincial school orchestra until I was 14. Sometimes this involved travelling to other areas to play in festivals. My voice lessons started when I was 16 and then I went to Paris as a nanny for 6 months so I was able to have voice lessons from a teacher at the academy of music there.

However, music was just a hobby that I enjoyed as I was planning to study languages until one day when I was 19, I just decided to stay the academy of music instead. So I studied at the Rogaland academy in Stavanger for three years, training as a music teacher with a speciality in voice which I finished in 1976. Then for the next two years I worked full-time as a music teacher in Stavanger, teaching children recorder, piano, and voice as well as directing a choir.
I then got a scholarship from Italy which enabled to me study voice in Rome for a year.

It was a fantastic year. I learned a lot about Italian culture and music. I returned to Stavanger as a music teacher and continued working fulltime until 1982. During this time I performed as a singer and had irregular voice lessons. In 1983 I moved to Drammen because I found an excellent voice teacher there and wanted to have regular lessons, which continued for three and half years. I supported myself with some part time teaching before moving to Oslo in 1986, because I'd found a better teacher there. She was Anne Brown, an American who was the first to sing the part of Bess in Gerschwin's opera, "Porgy and Bess". She was 74 when I first started taking lessons and I learnt a lot from her about technique, breathing and interpretation.

I still have singing lessons because you can always keep learning and the lessons make me feel good. Also by being a student myself, is useful when I'm then teaching others music. Just a few years ago I changed my teacher again (1988). This woman is a professor at the academy of music in Oslo.

Slovakian Bahá´ís performing at the 1991 BAFA Arts Forum in Bratislava. They are wearing textiles made by Chris Wagg, U.K. Photograph: AnKi Nilsson, Faroe Islands.
AnKi Nilsson, accompanied Margun Risa’s performance at the Arts Forum. Margun was one of 60 artists from 15 countries who performed the Arts Forum.
Photograph by AnKi Nilsson, a Swedish pianist living in the Faroe Islands. AnKi Nilsson accompanied Margun on the piano at the Art Forum.

It is usual for professional singers to continue taking lessons throughout their singing career, as it is so difficult to retain a high level of performance. I also take lessons to continue extending my singing possibilities. I hear a lot of singers who continue to change their voice or perhaps to find their voice. For example, I used to be a soprano but now I sing contralto (a deeper voice) which is really where I belong.

I had always been seeking for something spiritual and had some contacts with Christianity but I found it too narrow for me. While I was still a student, I heard two men talking about a Bahá´í stand they had seen and the name stood out for me. So I approached them and asked what was Bahá´í?. I was attracted by the whole religion but initially I couldn't accept some of the laws such as not drinking alcohol and I also felt I had to be perfect in accepting all laws before joining.

One particular effect on me as a singer, when I became a Bahá´í was that I now had something bigger to work for than a 'famous' opera stage. My teachers had wanted me on the big stages because they found that my voice had some good qualities. In the music world it's so easy for the ego to become too important.
The words I sing are also important to me. It's nice to watch an opera but often the meaning or content of the music is empty or silly. Religious music and in particular the German lieder composers (Brahmns, etc) are enjoyable to sing because there is a deeper meaning in the words.

Bahá'í House of Worship, India
photograph by Jens von Krogh, a Norwegian photographer living in Sweden.

A beautiful experience for me was to be invited to sing at the opening of the Lotus Temple in New Delhi in 1986. The National Assembly of Norway asked me if I would sned a cassette with my singing on it to the Australian Tom Price who was the conductor of the international choir for the opening. I was invited to sing with the choir and for the banquet in a hotel afterwards. The thirty or forty of us from all over the world, arrived three or four days beforehand.

We practised day and night in the hotel hall and in the temple, usually 14 hours a day and had to learn all of the music off-by-heart for the three services. There were three choirs; a Persian, an Indian and the international choir, which I was part of and which Tom Price conducted. When we practised in the temple there was a very special atmosphere. The sound seemed to just come out without any effort and rise to the top of the temple. I did one solo piece and all the rest I sang with the choir.

In 1992 the Norwegian composer Lasse Thoresen asked me to participate in a concert in a mausoleum in Olso in connection with the Bahá´í Holy Year. He composed the music to words from the Bahá´í Writings and made one special piece called "Holy City" for me, to words by 'Abdu'l-Bahá. It is a 6 minute a cappella which is quite long. He knows my voice and so it was just right for my vocal range.
In October 1993 I will attend the music forum in Landegg with Lasse Thoresen to sing a couple of his songs for this. He is the only Bahá´í I've worked with professionally. I give concerts in halls and particularly churches and I usually sing classical but I aslo sing gospel, musicals and ballads. I have only sung one or twice in a full production opera and that was Mozart's Magic Flute.

I usually get my singing work through word of mouth and I perform about once every two months. My vision for the future is to keep learning and my dream is to perform with other professionals.

Excerpts from BAFA newsletter, December 1993 page 10

2003: I continue to sing, mostly giving concerts of classical music. I performed with another Bahá´í, the pianist Nancy Lee Harper at a festival in Portugal a few years ago and each summer perform in a festival in Europe. The 2002 one was in Italy performing with a folk-jazz group, "Aylantus".

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