Welcome to the very first and highly anticipated Women Write Now interview, a Women of Noise project. If you’re looking to read and hear about brilliant women and non-binary creatives around the globe then you have come to the right place.
Let’s transport our minds to Scandinavia, the home of Damkapellet, our ensemble in spotlight for this interview. Founded in 2016, the all-women ensemble has grown from their debut performance on International Women’s Day (8 March 2016) to having several projects, a compilation, extensive performances and lectures that shine light on female composers of the past and present. Now, Damkapellet is an ensemble consisting of twenty members sprawled across Scandinavia who collectively champion the music of women, sharing music that enters the ears, minds and hearts of the community. In this interview we hear from Damkapellet‘s founder, producer and violist, Mika Persdotter Svensson; producer and violist Pauline Hogstrand; and percussionist, Irene Bianco.
Phoebe from Women of Noise: How did the Damkapellet form and what were some of the considerations you had when forming the ensemble?
Mika: I took the initiative in forming the ensemble and from the beginning my idea was that it should be female musicians playing music by female composers. But this basic idea has been discussed many times– mostly why we are female musicians. Because the work we do with finding new ways of working as musicians, without hierarchies and questioning the norms– this question is for everyone to discuss in the whole scene and surrounding environment.
Phoebe: In forming the ensemble did you all have a united vision?
Mika: We had many discussions. The group is different within how political members want to be and feel comfortable with. Some members want music to be just art and free from politics and some members are very political. We discussed many times including men in the collective but ended up liking the vibe and safe space we created with only women so we haven’t taken that step yet. We have also discussed the issue of other minorities not being represented in the music scene, but we decided to focus on shining the light on female composers.
Phoebe: Damkapellet’s aim discusses “supporting women in the music scene and around the world” through performing their music. How does this aim reflect the musical landscape in Scandinavia and beyond?
Irene: We try to be very active performing across different fields and different kinds of music. Our annual concert on International Women’s Day, the 8th of March, is a good example on how we combine improvisation, new music, Baroque. We perform music from people we know personally, we commission pieces and we always look around and research what is going on and what has happened before. It is very good to have people from all Scandinavia and also abroad joining, and we also have a broader range of instrument possibilities right now. Some concrete examples of our work in our communities are the projects we do at Danish schools. The Glemte Stemmer quartet from our ensemble also tours and promotes the music of women. They also will be going to Russia soon. We also collaborate with Den Andra Operan in Stockholm and participate in local festivals. We have had the chance to catalogue a lot of ‘forgotten music’ by women that was lying in the basement of the conservatory in Copenhagen.
Phoebe: How do you engage with community and wider audiences through your music?
Irene: As an ensemble we enjoy directly involving the audience. For example, we like to do ‘sonic meditations’ with the audience during the concerts. We also play different kinds of music within the same concert and we try to use our skills and connect with audiences even when we play outside of the Damkapellet ensemble setting. We will probably also try some new approaches in the future, including having an annual membership available and to engage further with audience and the community with information and newsletters with updates on the work of the ensemble.
Phoebe: How has the ensemble and its projects and concerts been received? What reactions have been elicited?
Pauline: In general the initiative has been very well received by both audience and musician colleagues in the Copenhagen network. Many people think that it is an important cause to bring female composers into the light, both from history and the ones today living. Damkapellet has, within the classical genre, a broad variety in programming, including more ‘traditional’ classical music, contemporary collaborations with composers, improvisation, concerts and school performances. Performances and projects depend on the audience of each specific concert setting. The wide variety in our program also seem to make our audience feel engaged. Specifically the school performance Glemte Stemmer or in English “Hidden Voices” has been receiving very good responses, both from teachers and their students. We have been surprised that children love contemporary music, and what makes music even stronger to the listener is to give them a story or a picture to let their ears guide their fantasy. This, I think, is also what makes Damkapellet‘s audience engage with the different kind of music that we introduce – gathering people around a cause that is communicated through music is something that many can relate to. Suddenly music becomes much less abstract, and with a meaning to those who don’t necessarily have an own relationship to that kind of music.
We have received some criticism about the ensemble being made up of exclusively of female members. Many men have shown interest to participate and some say they lack a community similar to this, where they get the chance to experiment within a group with a common goal to be more free in terms of expectations, creativity, playfulness and collectiveness within a group. For example, some of the greatest responses we have had is that questioning hierarchy and having no leader, is something audiences can hear when we play. A sense of calmness, trust, and teaming up with each other that puts the audience in a state where they can relax and totally rely on us to deliver music from our hearts into a united being.
Phoebe: Is diversity a primary consideration in your concert programming?
Irene: The concert programming is mainly a combination of different desires of each member. We try always to represent something from the past, including some of our own works, and to look at what is around. We try to include things that we like and things we think should be heard. I think we don’t have a very strong direction on which kind of people should be represented, is mainly female music, but I believe it reflects how different we all are. Also our setting of instruments sometimes is limiting the choice in the programming, but we have been always open to welcome new members when the opportunity arises.
Phoebe: What is the role of each member, musically and beyond?
Irene: In the beginning there was no set structure and a lot of work of the work was not divided into roles, but it was a way to see how to develop it further. Later, we wanted to take more responsibility and engagement, especially it came to big concerts. Now everyone has a task that more suits them in addition to the music. We also have a group board of few people from the ensemble this year that meet up and plan activities, accounting, administration, and more. The group changes every year and people who feel that they have the time to do it and have strong visions for the ensemble take part in it.
Phoebe: Who do you think needs to hear your music most?
Irene: I personally would like if the music of Damkapellet could arrive to people that have not found a way to express themselves freely and entirely. So probably to all that great musicians and people that don’t feel comfortable inside the structures they are supposed to be working in right now and also to who follow conventions and pre-existing structures without putting them in discussion.
Phoebe: What are some future projects for Damkapellet that the ensemble is looking forward to most?
Mika: Damkapellet have been given a residence in KoncertKirken for the whole year of 2020 when we will arrange more concerts than we ever have before.
Irene: We will also try to organise talks with composers and different collaborations during the year. Is amazing to have a space so well known and so central. KoncertKirken is a church arranging a lot of diverse culturale events in Norrebro, Copenhagen for cooperate and show our work.
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