Danish singer first with degree in choral improv
Kristian is the first European to graduate from a conservatory with a major in “Improv with vocal ensembles”.
Kristian Skårhøj – baritone member of Voxnorth since 2008 – has been singing since he was a child. As he grew up in a religious home, singing was part of his everyday. Before dinner, at bedtime, by the piano in the living room and at church twice a week. He grew up with choral music and the desire to add harmonies to tunes and – according to his Mom – made up his first real song by the age of 4.
It wasn’t until a very special night in 2003 though that he discovered improvised vocal music for the first time when he attended his first concert with Bobby McFerrin and Voicestra. Kristian explains: “I was sitting in the audience with a presenceness and a sense of being a part of a very special – almost sacred – moment. The music just seemed to stream out of McFerrin and the singers, constantly in the progress and yet beautifully alive. It was just right there! And it was fresh and brand new. For almost two hours they kept making wonderful music, and ones they left the stage it just lived on inside me. I left the concert hall singing! A new world of music had opened to me.”
Five years later Kristian came by an unprecedented and unique chance by making his master thesis in collaboration with Linda Goldstein, Bobby McFerrin and Voicestra. “It was a total dream come true for me! First they granted me access to numerous concert recordings from 1997 concerts – and then I got invited to join the upcoming 2008 tour with McFerrin and the group for 10 days in the US! Even though it was 10 o’clock at night and I was all alone, I started jumping and screaming in wild exaltation when I got the notice!”
The master thesis became an unprecedented collection of transcriptions and analysises of McFerrin’s works. 160 pages of transcribed circle songs and 40 pages of analysis. But not only did Kristian make an intellectual approach to McFerrin’s unique improv style – this was also the starting point of his own vocal ensemble with improv as its focal point. He named the project Songs of the Moment, and today it is still one of Kristian’s major musical projects.
When asked about the difference between Voxnorth and Songs of the Moment Kristian tells: “In the beginning Songs of the Moment was strictly based on improv music, and the concerts were fully improvised. Even though I nowadays also use the ensemble to perform my written choral compositions – like The Pentecost Oratorio – the main element of the group is to make improvised music as an art form. I take these skills that I developed with Songs of the Moment and I bring them into the Voxnorth setting. For some time I was being given a blank space in the Voxnorth setlist every gig to make up a circle song, and it was a beautiful moment to connect with the singers by facing the unknown together. Not just that though – Jim [Musical director of Voxnorth] always kept bringing all these new fancy hand signals into the music! I was standing there working on something, and all of a sudden the music just went BOOM because Jim had made the whole group follow him on some new idea!”
After graduating in 2008 with a Master in Music, Kristian decided to fully commit to vocal improv and he was admitted for the Advanced Postgraduate Diploma in Music program at The Royal Academy of Music in Aarhus in 2009. On January 8 this year, he made his ‘debut concert’ as a certified circle song and improv singer/composer – in front of almost 400 people who had gathered in The Music Hall Aarhus. “It was one of my most grateful moments! Not only had I had the opportunity to work with an all star group of beautiful singers who also were my friends, not only did they give us two full days in The Rhythmic Hall for the rehearsals but when the concert started we faced an almost full house! 400 people is a big audience for a vocal concert – but 400 people at an all improvised vocal concert? That’s a heck of a lot!!”
The concert was a huge success and Kristian fulfilled his dawning dream from 2003. He made a beautiful, varied and very present concert, making up the music from start to end in an organic flow. Circle songs, duet, trios and full jam improvs all in a mix. Best of all. It had beautifully stunning moments as well as engaging humorous stage presence which captivated the audience and one would be surprised if some did not leave the hall humming and singing.