Final Swedish Blog: Swedish Media, A Musician’s Admission, When Will Mynta Tour the U.S.? and Closing Cultural Observations (Dallas Smith)

Final Swedish Blog #6 Hammarstrand, Sweden

April 9, 2008 [Again, the host’s apologies for inexcusable delay]

Corrections

First a correction from my good friend Dr. Gert Wegner concerning the following paragraph from a previous blog:

There is one story from Swedish history that illuminates the larger climate change. At one point in history, I believe around the 1600’s, Skåne belonged to Denmark. Sweden and Denmark fought a long and bloody war. But a decisive shift occurred when the Swedish king’s army was able to mount an attack on Danish King Lear’s castle by crossing the narrow ocean channel separating Sweden and Denmark, because the sea had frozen over that winter. No one in living memory can remember that channel freezing over. Perhaps if the climate had not enabled the Swedish attack, Skåne would still be Danish.

Dear Dallas,

Thanks a lot for the entertaining tour account! You got muddled up with European history. Shakespeare didn’t. Lear was King of Brittany. Helsingør was Prince Hamlet’s castle.

Cheerio, Gert

Second, I was informed that Verizon has the text messaging information service that I discovered in Sweden.

Currently…

It’s still snowing, after having received 3-5 inches during the last two days. Hammarstrand is a village next to a lake at the foot of a small ski area. It seems that the ski season is over, since the ski resort seems to be inactive, despite the fact that there’s plenty of snow. We drove approximately 100 miles to get here today, which was luckily level for most of the drive. We did spin our wheels a few times, mostly due to the fact that we are pulling the trailer with all our instruments.

I’m counting down to the end of the tour: three more music days, then one long travel day back to Stockholm, then an early flight back to the states on Monday. Monday will be a 33-hour day, since I’ll be regaining the nine hours I lost in traveling East outbound to Sweden. We’ll be playing our last school program tomorrow, followed by three more concerts in three different locations. Our very last concert will be recorded for later broadcast by Swedish Radio.

April 10, 2008

At Christian’s request, I drove the van back to our final base of operations in the town of Östersund, from which we’ll drive to our remaining concerts. It’s still snowing…the road was like an ice-skating rink…very slick. Luckily, there wasn’t much traffic, and I drove as carefully as I could. Pulling the trailer acted as a stabilizing counter-balance to the mini-van.

Östersund has two Thai restaurants right next to each other. We had lunch at one yesterday and at the other today. Head to head competition must be good, because both seemed to be doing good business, and the food in both was good.

Counting down our final three days, we are trying to polish our performances as much as possible in anticipation of the recording of our final concert for later broadcast by Swedish Radio. Susan and I receive relatively small royalties from the airplay that our recordings get in the states, by Muzak and other miscellaneous airplay outlets. But the Swedish radio broadcast earns a relatively high royalty rate due to the large national audience that the government stations reach. Since the airplay of Mynta’s various composers (including myself) gets officially logged, in a year or two I’ll receive a royalty check based on this Swedish regional broadcast. If the program gets picked up by the national radio, I could get a much larger royalty due to the national audience.

Swedish Media

Sweden has four national television channels. Programs 1-3 are commercial-free. Program 4 carries some commercials, though it’s still government-supported. It’s very nice to see American programs without commercials. (Regular half-hour programs last only twenty minutes.) Swedish television is supported by a special television tax, based on how many televisions one owns. Collection of this tax is mostly by the honor system, though I was told years ago when I first heard of this system, that “friendly uncles” (vanlige farbror) have the right to knock on your door and come in to count your television sets.

I watch the government channels to try to improve my Swedish. There are talk shows, documentaries, and occasional arts programs. There are several Swedish government radio stations as well. It’s the same mix of programming, which I like, since I’m a devoted NPR fan at home, and the stations are similar.

April 12, 2008

Our last three concerts have received standing ovations. The band is really playing well together. Having a dedicated soundman also is a great help. He is able to mix the sound from his position out front better than we are able to do from the stage. The natural inclination is for each member to want to hear himself louder in the mix, which leads to a sonic escalation finally ending in feedback. With our professional soundman, each member has his own monitor speaker in which he can hear the mix according to his own taste.

We played a free noontime concert yesterday in Östersund’s old church. The church was packed, first with an elderly population that is used to attending the regular concerts, and then by some younger people who had heard our concert the night before and wanted to hear us again. It’s interesting that when the venue is filled to overflowing, it is easier to get a standing ovation, since the audience’s positive reactions reinforce each other. Two nights earlier, we had played in a large theater only two blocks from this church. The tickets were relatively expensive (around $25), and there were only around fifty people in a hall that would have held 200. We played very well, and the audience responded enthusiastically, leading to our playing an encore after the final bows. But they didn’t stand up.

This leads to the admission, of which my readers are perhaps already aware, that musicians in general are addicted to applause. We want the audience to respond loudly and enthusiastically. When they do, we feel validated, stroked, justified, encouraged, and ultimately inspired. When we bring the same energy to a performance and yet do not receive the audience’s positive feedback, we feel self-doubt, uncertainty, loss of confidence, and ultimately, depression. Some great artists, such the late brilliant Canadian pianist Glenn Gould, cease doing public performances, just because of this psychological aspect of concertizing. (That’s assuming, of course, that the performer has overcome stage fright, a natural aspect of all performances.)

April 13, 2008

The tour is over, except for the 8-9 hour drive back to Stockholm. 27 gigs in 19 days! That’s the most concerts in a row that I ever played in my life! Everybody says it was the best tour ever. Christian is worried about how he can match this one. I suggested that he start making phone calls this coming Monday. J

Several of the venues we played at on this tour expressed the desire to have us come again next year. Since next year will be a celebration of Mynta’s 30 years, I have no doubt that Christian will be able to put together a great tour for next year with the extra PR that the 30-year celebration will yield. Plus, our new CD should be ready. We are combining recording sessions from last year, this past January in India, and the session we did on our one free day this tour. Some parts have to be touched up, but the basic tracks of the album are done. And at during the past three years, we hope to mount another tour to India next January.

At tonight’s final concert, which was recorded for radio broadcast (probably in September), I was told that I had spoken Swedish without any mistakes (for the first time). I was peeved at the guys, because they let me continue to make the same mistakes without correcting me. “Oh, it’s charming,” Max said. I said, let me be charming some other way other than making grammatical mistakes. In any case, speaking Swedish every day for three weeks has certainly increased my comprehension and fluency. I also spoke more Spanish with Santiago (our unique mixed communication of Swedish & Spanish). So besides being a music intensive, the tour was a language intensive, as well.

Swedish blog wrap-up

Touring with Mynta is very stimulating. The bottom line is that I enjoy the music; I enjoy traveling and practicing my languages; and I’ve made some good friends here, such that I’m quite “at home” in Sweden. It’s a great country with generally very nice people, with a high level of cultural sophistication, liberal politics, and a high standard of living. It’s really more similar to American culture than any other European country, at least in my experience. (Some Swedes might not appreciate my saying that.) With the ease of communication through the internet, my friends there don’t really seem much farther away than those in the states. I can certainly appreciate their lifestyle and picture the details of day to day life here. And of course, the Mynta guys are looking at me, wondering when I’m going to organize an American tour for them.

Some Final Cultural Observations

I’ve mentioned some of Sweden’s progressive energy-conservation practices in previous blogs. (Windmills, good public transport, traffic circles, educational focus, etc.) Here are some more:

1. There are lots of automatic lights sensors. For example, there are many public rooms, including bathrooms, with motion sensors, such that the lights come on automatically when one enters the room.

2. I like the two stage toilet flushes (big/little) found in many places. It’s interesting that water conservation is promoted considering the fact that Sweden seems to have more water resources than any other country I can think of.

3. I’ve never seen a stopped escalator in the US that wasn’t out of order. In Sweden, most escalators are stopped until someone steps on them, at which point they automatically start to move.

4. While it’s universal in India to take off one’s shoes when entering a home, I guess that in Sweden the practice is present 75% of the time. It even occurs in hotel rooms, i.e. the habit of taking off one’s shoes is practiced when visiting someone in their hotel room, which actually makes the room feel much cleaner.

5. Every single place we’ve played a concert (with the one exception of the “desert gig” in Eksjö) has served us coffee, tea, and cookies, if not sandwiches as well. The hospitality quotient is very high, which makes the meetings with new people more pleasant than if it were just strictly business. The majority of music gigs that I play in Reno make little provision for refreshments for the band beyond bottled water.

6. Economic reality check: gasoline–$8-9/gallon; a large glass of beer at the bar or restaurant–$10; Daily lunch specials (the cheapest thing on the menu)–$10-12; Groceries—more than at home; Real estate—more than Reno, but less than San Francisco.

7. Taxes: highest combined rate in the world. For their taxes, Swedes get: free universal healthcare, free university education (and of course, free primary education), great public transportation system, mostly commercial-free television and radio, no slums, an extensive social welfare system, the most liberal political asylum policies in the world, more foreign development aid grants per capita than the US, and (last but not least) extensive public support for the arts. The general mood of the country is positive, i.e. people are generally happy and pleased with their government and its policies.

8. Something very funny was pointed out to me, that I had just accepted as being part of American culture, i.e. the inability of newspapers to print or televisions to allow to be uttered—the so-called seven dirty words: f___, s___, c___, m____f____, whatever…I can’t even remember what they are. Nonetheless, I was questioned: How is it possible that the words can be alluded to, such that everyone knows what is meant, and yet propriety demands that we pretend that people don’t talk that way every day? I suppose the supposed justification is to “protect the children”. However, even in the dark ages of when I was in school, I had certainly heard all the words by age 13. I suppose the censorship of public language in print and in the broadcast media is similar to the movement that limits sex education to “abstinance only”, and we all know how well that works! Swedes just can’t understand these aspects of American culture, even after I try to explain it. It’s like a mass manifestation of cognitive dissonance…for the reasonable Swedish mind, our cultural quirks just do not compute.

9. One of the mountain roads we had traveled on had recently witnessed a migration of a herd of around one hundred raindeer. Even though we didn’t see them, it feels good just to know that they were there

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