Angels we have heard on high

A German choir, singing Lucia in Danish, mesmerizes Brooklyn-area Norwegians

A soloist performs at the Lyspiger NCH concert.

Photo: Michael D’Ambrosio
A soloist performs at Lyspiger’s NCH concert.

Victoria Hofmo
Brooklyn, N.Y.

On the evening of Monday, December 8 the Lyspiger (Light Girls) choir from Duborg-Skolen (school) located in Flensborg, Germany, performed a Christmas concert at the Norwegian Christian Home & Health Center (NCH). This Danish school was founded almost 100 years ago in the Schleswig area of Germany. So, why are they singing in Danish? Now that’s an interesting history.

The areas of Schleswig and Holstien are both geographically part of Jutland. Their autonomy see-sawed between Germany (then Prussia) and Denmark over the course of various wars, as they were the spoils. Eventually, both became part of Germany and remain so to this day. However, in many cases the Danish minority retained its identity, including language and education.

According to the school’s principal, Ebbe B. Rasmussen, “About 50,000 Danes live in the area today and about 8,000 are in the school system.” The choir began in 1925. Its members range from ages 16 to 20. About 10 years ago they began touring during the three weeks before Christmas. They performed at the NCH about eight years prior and thought it was time to return. The have also toured in London, Paris, and New York.

The concert was held in the NCH’s cozy auditorium. After Rasmussen introduced he choir and explained the school’s history and about the Danish minority in Germany, the performance began. Soloist and choir leader Froya Gildberg from Trondhiem, Norway. sang two songs. She was accompanied by pianist and her co-leader Ruth Marschmann.

Electric lights were extinguished. The full audience was thrust into darkness. And then from the hushed stillness a vision, 16 young women dressed in white floated out in candlelight. The audience stared in hushed stillness. They entered singing Santa Lucia, but did not have one Lucia marked with a wreath of candles.

Instead all were Lucias. They sang the entire concert a cappella, and by memory, mostly in Danish, but with a few tunes English. Many of the songs were from Scandinavia, but there was also a good balance of recognizable songs, like “Away in a Manger.” “Lo How a Rose E’er Blooming” was exceptional with its blended harmonies—sweet, soft, subtle, pure and haunting.

The angels began to depart, choreographed in a curved intersecting pattern as they sang Santa Lucia once again. One resident chimed in on the chorus of Santa Lucia. Many of those living in the home are of Italian heritage, so this song resonates with them. The audience was in awe and mesmerized, by the time the last girl sang the last note of Santa Lucia, at the purity of one lone voice.

Then the school’s principal presented a gift to Sheryl Larsen, Activities Director of the NCH. I asked Principal Rasmussen how it was to come to the Norwegian Christian Home. “I think we had a very warm welcome,” he said. “We are impressed with the audience. They were very engaged. If it’s possible we’d like to come back again.”

Larsen added, “What a wonderful gift from Denmark to the Norwegian Christian Home. What an excellent presentation, one of the best we’ve ever had.” I couldn’t agree more. It was pure joy to hear this angelic choir during the Christmas season.

This article originally appeared in the Dec. 19, 2014, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly.

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