By BIRGIT HØJER and ERIC JUL
April 25, 2020
Denmark, just like the rest of the world, is suffering from the Corona crisis, yet it is not closed down in the same way as most of the US states that have stay-at-home orders. Instead, there are a number of restrictions with an emphasis on KEEPING DISTANCE and good hygiene. Grocery stores, pharmacies, and other stores featuring essential goods are open while shopping centers are closed. Public transportation is running on normal schedules to ensure that essential workers, such as health care workers, can get to work in uncrowded busses and trains. Most concerts, markets, etc. have been cancelled – some are reappearing as virtual events.
We are allowed to move around outside; as a matter of fact, health authorities recommend that everyone go for a walk every day to get fresh air and exercise. There is an emphasis on staying healthy, with respect to both physical health – avoiding getting infected and getting exercise – and mental health – keeping up social contacts, albeit at a distance. Universities, theaters, churches, and most schools and stores are closed. Many work from home.
Because the number of new cases and those in intensive care peaked around April 1, some of the restrictions are slowly being lifted, e.g. day cares and elementary schools are reopening, albeit with more space per person. Health authorities reevaluate the situation daily; this snapshot is as of April 25, 2020.
Mid-March 2020 there were news stories showing pictures of Italians singing from their balconies. Italians were forced to stay at home under strict stay-at-home laws and so singing from their balconies was a way to meet up – at a distance. While some sang songs, others played music; there were many different types of musical expressions.
The Italians singing got Danes going. Singing groups were established on Facebook to get people together – separately – to sing. In suburban areas, neighbors would meet, each in their own driveway; in apartment buildings, people would go out to their balconies at an agreed upon time. Some would choose songs beforehand and start the singing, sometimes accompanied by music.
Such singing events quickly spread and Danish Public TV soon adopted. So now, every morning at 9:00 a.m. (2:00 a.m. CDT), you can sing along via either TV or radio. Each day, Phillip Faber (composer and head of the Danish Radio Girls’ Choir) presents two songs and plays them on his grand piano (transmitted directly from his home) and sings them in a way so that we all can join – the songs are subtitled for those of us that are memory challenged. Anyone can send in suggestions for songs, preferably as a short video, which is then played when the song is chosen. The morning singing is available at www.dr.dk/drtv/serie/morgensang-med-phillip-faber_176557. It is great to know (and to talk about on the phone) that every morning we can sing, in the comfort of our own home, along with thousands of others and that all can participate regardless of their singing abilities
Morgensang med Phillip Faber, as the morning singing show is called, was quickly a big hit, so Danish Public TV followed up with Fællessang – hver for sig, a one hour show that runs every Friday evening. So far it has run four Fridays and features numerous well-known singers and musicians who lead the singing, each transmitted from their own homes – or outdoors. The show also features short videos from various groups of essential workers (nurses, garbage collectors, teachers, doctors, day care workers), that present a wish for a song. The show is broadcast live at 8:00 p.m. Danish time (1:00 p.m. CDT) on the website: https://www.dr.dk/drtv/serie/faellessang-_-hver-for-sig_179988. Recordings are on the website also, just as they are on the website for the morning singing show.
Even Queen Margrethe’s eightieth birthday on April 16, 2020 was celebrated with song since essentially all of her birthday events had been cancelled long before. Many groups, often organized via social media, arranged local singing – separately but together – in honor of Queen Margrethe. Danish Public TV followed up with transmissions from all over the country of Danes singing for the queen. Videos of the singing can be seen here: https://www.tv2fyn.dk/fyn/dronningens-foedselsdag-syng-med-paa-landsdaekkende-faellessang
Aside from her traditional annual New Year’s speech to the Danish people, broadcast live on television, Queen Margrethe does NOT hold speeches. Yet she was so touched by the singing celebrations of her birthday that she felt moved that evening to hold a thank you speech on television – a very unusual event; only once since World War II has a Danish regent held such a speech – and that was just in mid-March, when the queen appealed to Danes to follow the health authorities’ guidelines to protect us all from the new Corona virus.
Danes have a long tradition of singing together during times of crisis – going back to the middle of the nineteenth century. The tradition was especially strong during World War II after the Nazi occupation of Denmark. Tens of thousands gathered at Alsang stævner to sing, as a subtle – albeit not quiet! – protest against the occupation.
The bible for much singing in Denmark is Den Danske Højskolesangbog, the Danish Folk School Song Book, which is a perennial bestseller in Denmark and known by most Danes. It contains 572 songs and is a treasure chest of our classic songs; most are in Danish, but there are a few foreign songs also. The Song Book was first published in 1894 and is revised at regular intervals; the next edition, the nineteenth, will be out in the fall of 2020. These revisions keep it current and relevant.
Years ago, singing together in large groups was mainly to be found at the classic Danish Folk Schools, but during the past five to ten years, singing together has become tremendously popular and numerous organizations and churches have arranged singing events. So, there has been a growing movement, even before the Corona crisis hit, that has contributed to the explosive growth in singing together, thus providing a bright ray of light and hope during these otherwise difficult Corona crisis times.
Highlights for May 2020
Erling Grumstrup, known for his love of singing, is on the cover, greeting us with a smile while the Solvang hospitality team, including songleader Suzanne Hollrah, huddles in the background. The singing theme continues with Edward Broadbridge’s English translation of En Lærke Leddet, a song about the liberation of Denmark in 1945, commemorated each year on May 4 by Danes putting lights in their windows, as in the photo by Anders Boll. He and his wife Gudrun, relatives of Else Nygaard Martin of the Danish colony of Granly, Mississippi, own this former schoolhouse in Kattrup, Denmark where German soldiers stayed a few weeks before stealing away under cover of darkness on May 5 seventy-five years ago.
Eric Jul and Birgit Højer, kin to Richard “Dick” Juhl, describe how the tradition of community singing in Denmark has had a resurgence while people have stayed at home to thwart the coronavirus pandemic. Hanna Broadbridge describes the creativity of Danish churches during this extraordinary time. Our pandemic experience is not unprecedented. We are reminded of that in the second part of the series looking at Manistee, Michigan as it endured the 1918 Spanish flu.
Continuing to look at archives, we find Danish folk school inspirations in newsletters of Community Service Inc., founded by Arthur Morgan, a supporter of the Americanized version of Ashland Folk School, which appeared in the last issue of Church and Life.
Before world travel came to a standstill this year, Marianne Gaarden, bishop of Lolland-Falster and Danish Churches Abroad, and her husband Michael Schelde, former director of the Grundtvig Study Center at Aarhus University, visited the Danish churches in Argentina. She shares her understanding of the churches role in those communities.
A few photos by Dan Mikel take us back to where we started on the cover to the Solvang Folk School Talks and people savoring time together to sing and visit. Little did we know at the end of February how precious such an in-person gathering would be.
The West Denmark Family Camp, held annually on July 1, 2, and 3 in Luck, Wisconsin, has been cancelled for 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. We look forward to welcoming our campers back in 2021.
Danebod Folk School in Tyler, MN is closed to all on site activities for the summer of 2020. due to COVID-19. However, The Folk Meeting is planning a virtual abbreviated on-line experience. Continue to save the dates August 19-21 and look for more information to come. In the meantime, stay safe and well. Keep singing.
On page 2 of the April 2020 issue in the notice about the former Danish Lutheran Church in Manistee, Michigan, the name of the church should be Our Savior’s Lutheran Church and it is Our Savior’s Historical Society that is preserving the building and increasing its accessibility. The term “old” was mistakenly used instead of “our.” The museum in the structure is called the Old Kirke Museum, which may have led to the confusion.
Upcoming Danish Celebrations
After Grundlovsdag, Constitution Day, on June 5, commemorating the establishment of Denmark as a constitutional monarchy in 1849, comes Gunforeneningsdag, Reunification Day, on June 15. This year marks the one hundredth anniversary of the return of North Slesvig (Southern Jutland) to Danish control when the border with Germany moved to its present location from the Kongeå River where it had been since 1864.
Bridget Lois Jensen