A summer of Northern Lights

The all-female choir made famous by the music for Disney’s Frozen unveils new album

Special Release
Decca Records

They helped inspire one of the biggest films in box office history, and now the women of Cantus—the Norwegian choir who sang the opening track to Disney’s animated hit Frozen—released their very first album on Decca Records, entitled Northern Lights, on May 12.

From a population of 170,000 in rural Trondheim, 32 women helped unearth the ethereal sounds of Norway for the world. During the first research trip to the country, Frozen‘s producers stopped at a shop and picked up some CDs for the journey. Driving around the country exploring the beauties of the land, the producers in turn discovered the sound of Cantus, the hidden voices of Norway, and the “yoik”—a traditional form of song from the Sámi people of the Nordic countries.

Comparable to the chanting of some Native American cultures, the yoik often mimics the sounds of nature, and this is evoked in many of Cantus’s recordings on the new album. The lead track, “Vuelie”—or “Earth Song”—weaves the celestial voices of the all-female choir with steady chanting reminiscent of repetitive rain or snow, in the all-familiar opening to the hit film. Written by composer Frode Fjellheim, the involvement with Disney has given the choir and composer much attention across the globe.

In an extensive feature in the London Times that ran in print in April, Senior VP of Music at Disney, Tom MacDougall, said of the choir’s involvement with Frozen, “if we’d recorded in Los Angeles with session singers, it might have a familiarity that could be from any other film… [We wanted] those nuances that audiences might feel, but might not be able to quantify.” That unspeakable, primordial sound is what sets Cantus apart.

Since its establishment in 1986, Cantus has been led by one of Norway’s most acclaimed conductors, Tove Ramlo-Ystad. A singer herself and the choir’s Artistic Director, Ramlo-Ystad focuses on pure and simple vocals, honing in on the beauty of the natural tone, while still maintaining homogeneity. This sound lends itself well to contemporary and traditional Norwegian folk music, for the harmonious yet personal sound for which Cantus has become renowned.

Speaking about her time with Cantus, Ramlo-Ystad said, “We have a saying in Cantus that we give from our hearts to your hearts. With our music, we have the opportunity to give something to other people, to give joy and happiness, and to be a part of that is very special. I am tremendously proud of everything the girls have achieved.”

The choir members are women aged between 20 and 40, and all have day jobs outside the choir, ranging from student to nurse, hairdresser, lawyer, and architect. The powerful female bond between choir members and their charismatic conductor is evident in their live performances and recordings, producing a sound that is almost otherworldly, and is one of the secrets behind their success.

The new album includes 12 tracks, all composed by Norwegian composer Frode Fjellheim.

To learn more about Cantus, visit www.cantus.no. Northern Lights is available in digital form from online retailers such as Amazon and iTunes. The CD will be available on June 2, 2017. Check your local retailer for availability.

This article originally appeared in the May 19, 2017, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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The Norwegian American

The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.