Preview: Cantus brings “Frozen” sound to America

Photo courtesy of Cantus None of the women in the chorus are professional singers, but the result of their mingled voices is greater than the sum of its parts.

Photo courtesy of Cantus
None of the women in the chorus are professional singers, but the result of their mingled voices is greater than the sum of its parts.

Melinda Bargreen
Everett, Wash.

If you have ever heard the soundtrack for Disney’s phenomenally popular animated movie Frozen, the Norwegian women’s chorus Cantus and its beautiful song “Vuelie” will need no introduction. And even if you’ve been camping out with the polar bears in Svalbard, you’ve probably heard that ubiquitous soundtrack, which has broken the sales record for number of weeks atop the U.S. Billboard animated-picture category.

That’s why Cantus’s “Vuelie” American tour, which will take the group to five U.S. cities April 23-27, is likely to draw eager crowds who fell in love with the group’s distinctive sound in Frozen. The tour will bring Cantus to Decorah, Iowa (April 23), Stoughton, Wis. (April 24), Appleton, Wis. (April 25), Minneapolis, Minn. (April 26), and Seattle, Wash. (April 27).

Cantus’s marketing manager Line Horvli recently took some time to answer questions for Norwegian American Weekly readers about the group’s surprise success, which she calls “a surreal experience.”

Asked whether Cantus had any inkling that their collaboration with Disney would be such a phenomenon, Horvli responds: “We had absolutely no idea! It was a fantastic contribution to the choir that Disney wanted to record Cantus for Frozen. Not only did they want the music, but they specifically wanted Cantus and our Nordic sound.

“When Disney called us, there was no information about Frozen online except a clip about Olaf and Sven. Therefore, we assumed that this was a short film. It became apparent during the process that this was way bigger,” Horvli adds.

Originally, Disney wanted to purchase Cantus’s original “Eatnemen Vuelie,” a song composed for Cantus back in 1996 (originally for a Christmas record) that became the group’s beloved classic. Its most distinctive element was the “joik” (the traditional chant-like motif in the 2nd altos), and composer Frode Fjellheim (who is South Sami) paired it with a traditional Norwegian hymn that one might know in English as “Fairest Lord Jesus.” The hymn, however, did not correspond with the role this piece was meant to have in the film, so the filmmakers asked if the composer would rewrite the melody for Frozen. This rewrite resulted in a piece now called “Vuelie,” heard in the opening of the movie—and now on Cantus’s tour in the U.S. Since Frozen was released, interest in Cantus has soared, with more than 2.5 million hits on YouTube.

So what exactly is a joik, which the South Sami people also call “vuollie”?

“This special way of singing comes from the Sami people living mostly in the northern parts of Scandinavia,” Horvli explains. The chant-like songs are among the longest living music traditions in northern Europe; some researchers have likened them to the chants of some Native American cultures.

Horvli notes that on Cantus’s new recording, SPES (“Hope” in Latin), the chorus has created a “a new stand-alone version of ‘Vuelie’ together with the composer Frode Fjellheim and percussion. This is to all the choir nerds out there who want a choir version.”

The collaboration with Fjellheim is a long-standing one. He and Cantus’s director, Tove Ramlo-Ystad, studied music together at the Institute of Music at the University of Trondheim. Fjellheim has written music for Cantus since the beginning of the 1990s; he is a prominent figure in the musical life of Trondheim, and his latest contribution to Cantus is music on the new album, SPES.

“Cantus and I have developed together for nearly 30 years, and we have had focus on having fun,” Ramlo-Ystad explains. “It has also been important to pursue new goals and keep working hard to reach those goals. The last years, our ambitions have been about good results and experiences in international competitions. There, the joy of singing and the will to perform at a high level merge, and our travels make the relationships between the members in Cantus even stronger.”

In a choir that has consistently been ranked No. 1 among women’s choirs by the global choral organization Interkultur, it is perhaps a bit surprising that all of Cantus’s members are officially amateurs.

“None of the singers in Cantus are professionals!” Horvli says. “We look for singers who love to sing. All members are accepted in the choir by auditioning, and Tove has the unique ability to see the potential in each singer in relation to the whole. A couple of us study music, but Cantus consists of everything from students and teachers to lawyers, nurses, and journalists. Even though none of us make a living as professional singers, all of us have a solid background from other choirs. To comprise the choir of amateur singers rather than professionals gives us the sound of Cantus as a whole rather than the sound of a group of solo performers. The result is a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.”

The Cantus team has high hopes for the upcoming American tour, at least partly because their last one was so successful—and so influential in determining future directions.

“We can’t wait to visit the U.S.,” Horvli says. “Last time, we were invited to sing at the American Directors Choral Association’s National Conference in Chicago 2011. It was a prestigious invitation and we were welcomed with open arms. We felt that we got a special connection with the Norwegian-American communities. Actually, ‘Eatnemen Vuelie’ would never have been recorded if it weren’t for our last visit to the USA. Our album Norwegian Voices (2011) was a direct effect of the Norwegian Voices tour. It is like we come full circle with our Vuelie Tour. It will also be very special to bring Vuelie with us, knowing that choirs at several venues will sing this song together with us!”

US & Canada tour dates:
April 23, 2015, 6:30 p.m.
First Lutheran Church
604 West Broadway Street
Decorah, IA 52101
Hosts are Luren Singers of Decorah, Iowa
For further information:

April 24, 2015, 7:00 p.m.
Performing Art Center
Stoughton High School
600 Lincoln Avenue
Stoughton, WI 53589
Tickets can be bought at

April 25, 2015, 5:00 p.m.
Lawrence Memorial Chapel
501 East College Avenue
Appleton, WI 54911
With Cantala (LU Women’s Choir), Phillip A. Swan conductor, and members of Bel Canto, Karen L. Bruno conductor

April 26, 2015, 1:00 p.m.
The Norwegian Lutheran Memorial Church, Mindekirken
924 E 21st St.
Minneapolis, MN 55404
Contact: (612) 874-0716 or

April 27, 2015, 7:00 p.m.
Plymouth Congregational Church
1217 6th Avenue
Seattle, WA 98101
With Chroma, the Women’s Ensemble of Seattle Pro Musica, Karen P. Thomas, conductor
Tickets at, (206) 781-2766

The tour will conclude with two Canadian performances at Tapestry International 2015, hosted by Elektra Women’s Choir

May 1, 2015, 7:30 p.m. “Choral Threads”
Ryerson United Church
2195 W. 45th Avenue
Vancouver, BC
Free entrance.
With Elektra (Canada), Cantus (Norway), Canzona Women’s Ensemble (California), and Esprit de Choeur (Manitoba).

May 2, 2015, 7:30 p.m. “Gala concert”
St. Andrew’s—Wesley United Church
1012 Nelson St.
Vancouver, BC
With Elektra (Canada), Cantus (Norway), Canzona Women’s Ensemble (California), and Esprit de Choeur (Manitoba).
Tickets and information:

This article originally appeared in the April 3, 2015, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly.

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Melinda Bargreen

Melinda Bargreen is a Seattle-based writer and composer whose career at The Seattle Times began in 1977. Her choral works include the “Norwegian Folksong Suite.” Melinda contributes to many publications and is the author of Seattle Opera’s forthcoming 50-year history book. She holds B.A. and M.A. degrees from the University of Washington in Seattle, and a doctorate in English from the University of California, Irvine.