Bridging gaps with music, one song at a time

Cecilia Q Ӧrhwall  

As I walk in to meet Cecilia Q Örhwall and her choir, they look relaxed, soaking in the last few minutes before bidding farewell to their host family here. Over lunch before heading to the station, Örhwall shared the incredible story of how she is striving to bridge gaps in society using the power of music.

A trained musician, a choir leader and composer for documentaries in Sweden, Örhwall had brought her youth choir, Sångföreningen Qöhr, on its fifth visit to Coimbatore. She had originally visited Coimbatore in 2003 as part of a project sponsored by the Royal School of Music in Stockholm, Sweden. Along with S Umarani, Manoj and Charles at the Coimbatore Music School, they were on a mission to promote universal brotherhood and taking music to those who needed healing in their lives. The project culminated in 2007 but Örhwall continued to travel to India with a vibrant group of Swedish youngsters to perform along with local talent.

In February, they performed in Goa before travelling to Coimbatore for a special performance with the students of the Coimbatore Music School and children of the Meher Village. “We meet in Stockholm once a week to practice. The youth choir is open to individuals from 15 to 25 years. Some stay on a bit longer. We encourage refugees and asylum seekers to be part of the group. Many feel lonely as they miss their families. They join our group, acquire a sense of belonging and slowly come out of their shells,” said a beaming Örhwall.

The visiting choir was a varied lot, comprising students, graduates, a high-school teacher and a professional guitarist. who has strummed for the Backstreet Boys and Britney Spears. Esbjörn Örhwall, the professional guitarist and Örhwall’s brother, has played for the Backstreet Boys and Britney Spears. On his maiden trip to India, he found “the people here very friendly, open-minded and curious. I am enjoying real Indian food, which is very different from what we get back home,” he said.

It was the first trip to India for Kalle Karjalainen, the base guitarist who found that “Even with high living standards in Sweden, many people are unhappy. But, here in India, even when someone appears to have very little, they seem happy and joyful.” Josefine Thureson, an aspiring journalist, has recorded every detail of her trip along with colourful photographs and hopes to publish a travelogue after her return.

For Joakim Nilsson, who teaches history and language in Sweden, this is his second visit to India with the choir group. “I find myself more relaxed and that helped me get closer to the people and the environment here.”

Örhwall said she had visited two people whom she had met in 2003. “They are siblings; both affected by polio and live in a home. As part of our initial project, we visited the home and taught music to the wards. Today they are trained instructors and teach music to others. Music has helped them make a living. It was very emotional for me to reconnect with them.”

Örhwall also spoke highly about her friendship with Umarani of the Coimbatore Music School. They have remained connected since 2003, enriching each other’s lives through music. The Sångföreningen Qöhr’s visits to India depend on funding by various agencies in Sweden, so every time they say good bye to their music family here, they do not know when they’ll be back again. But in their hearts, they know that it is only a matter of time and that they will come back to Coimbatore with a new ensemble and renewed energy.

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Printable version | May 8, 2021 4:54:30 AM |

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