Vocal Line – Unique Nordic Sounds
What’s behind one of the World’s Best A Cappella Choirs
Every Wednesday evening, the thirty-one singers of Vocal Line and their conductor Jens Johansen meet in Aarhus, Denmark, to spend three hours together singing, developing, and fine-tuning their distinctive Nordic sound – the very sound that sent them right to the top at the Eurovision Choir 2019 in Gothenburg.
Being crowned winners after this intense choral battle with Europe’s best choirs is, undoubtedly, one of Vocal Line’s most important recent accomplishment. The choir went home not only carrying the prestigious trophy Eurovision Choir 2019, but also an exclusive invitation to join the recently held 11th World Choir Games in Flanders for a Celebration Concert and a Workshop, where they shared the secrets of their technique, vocal exercises, and unique arrangements with an impressed audience.
Established in 1991, the choir has grown to be one of the world’s very best a cappella choirs delivering towering musical levels and creating world-class choral music. Nowadays, Vocal Line has not only achieved their stated goal as frontrunners in the development of rhythmical a cappella choir music, but have delivered performances that have crossed country borders and resulted in unique and innovative interpretations of music from world-known stars.
Based on the Danish choir tradition, Vocal Line manages to combine, like few others, soaring Nordic sounds with personality and fervor, something that never fails to capture and touch their audience. Equally impressive is the ability of the thirty-one skilled singers to express their individual voices and musicality while simultaneously maintaining the immaculate blend that Vocal Line is known for.
Through the years, more than 200 singers have been part of Vocal Line - a pretty impressive family tree of talented singers – all from various backgrounds; from conservatory and musicology students to school teachers and IT employees. Today, the aspiring singers wishing to join the choir are carefully selected through auditions where they need to show the necessary blending skills, vocal range, and ability to remember and reproduce vocal lines.
In their 30-year lifespan, Vocal Line has gained great recognition throughout Europe and the rest of the world, bringing home trophies from many international choir competitions. In 2010 Vocal Line performed with the world famous vocal equilibrist Bobby McFerrin in New York and in Aarhus. In 2014 the choir performed at The Roskilde Festival with the legendary The Rolling Stones, and in 2015 the choir performed at a TV-broadcasted concert at the foot of the "Christ The Redeemer" statue in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, reaching 180 million viewers.
With Jens Johansen as their permanent conductor and focal point, Vocal Line have reached ever-higher musical levels and have had the opportunity to travel and perform in Europe, North America, South America and Asia, presenting their unique Nordic sound to a wide range of audiences.
We approached Mr. Johansen with two important questions about his work with the choir.
Vocal Line has been your choir for more than 30 years. What was your original vision and ambition, and has your ambitions for the choir changed through the years?
When I formed Vocal Line 30 years ago, my goal was to create a choir that should develop a new
approach to vocal pop and jazz to be sung in choirs. I wanted to create a choral sound that would allow the audience to get in touch with a lot of different feelings. My inspiration came from very different musical areas:
- The vocal harmonies from The Beatles and The Beach Boys
- Vocal groups like Take 6 and The Real Group
- The Nordic classical tradition with its bright timbre
- The complex orchestral music from great composers like Bach, Beethoven and Brahms
So, it was a mix of different genres and styles, that was my inspiration. I wanted the warm surrounding sound of a big choir. I learned a lot of arranging techniques by studying and listening to vocal groups. But the study of instrumentation and composition in the symphonies of the great classical masters made me think of Vocal Line more as a symphony orchestra than an XXL vocal group. With 31 well-trained and skilled voices you have so many possibilities to create a big surrounding sound, not unlike what you can experience when listening to a classical symphony. This cannot be done with only 5 or 6 singers. You simply don’t have voices enough to create ambient sounds and interesting counterpoint.
You have made countless arrangements for Vocal Line through the years and are well-known for your ability to create choral pieces that are interesting to sing for every voice in a choir – even altos. However, through the years, you have also had a handful of co-conductors in Vocal Line. What have they contributed with?
After the first 10 years, I realized that if Vocal Line should go on developing new styles in arrangement and sound, it would be necessary to involve more – and maybe younger – singers from the choir. Vocal Line has always been a very democratic choir with only little top-down management. Therefore, it was very natural for me to invite some of the singers to be part of the artistic management.
The singers in Vocal Line have many different and valuable musical skills. Some can teach modern vocal techniques, some are great arrangers and musicians, while others know a lot about PR-strategies. Every performance is important to the choir, whether the venue and audience is big or small. Every audience deserves that Vocal Line does their best – every time. And, Vocal Line really do best when the singers have a good time together, because it shows in the performance and you can hear it when the voices get together.
The tight-knit relationships and the warm social climate of the choir are important keys to the ongoing development and success of Vocal Line, something you can clearly sense from this special behind-the-scenes video that they prepared especially for us:
In the spring of 2022, Vocal Line will embark on an extensive tour in some of Denmark’s best concert halls and theatres. In the meantime, Jens Johansen will turn 70 in 2022, but he feels certain that his choir and his vision will continue for several years to come.
Choir: Vocal Line
Conductor: Jens Johansen
Repertoire: Rhythmical A cappella, Nordic Choir Music mixed with Pop, Rock and Jazz
Accomplishments: Winner of the Eurovision Choir 2019
Albums: "Step by Step" (1996), "Dream Rhymes" (1999), "Emotional Landscapes" (2003), "Vocal Stories" (2006), "Beauty in the Breakdown" (2010), "Precious Things" (2013), "It's Coming On Christmas" (2016), "True North" (2018)