In Conversation – Karin Ericsson Back of Irmelin, Part I

In Conversation – Karin Ericsson Back of Irmelin, Part I

?When you sing with a group of people, you learn how to subsume yourself into a group consciousness because a capella singing is all about the immersion of the self into the community. That’s one of the great feelings?to stop being me for a little while and to become us. That way lies empathy, the great social virtue.?

Brian Eno

Irmelin is a Swedish a capella folk trio that delivers exquisite renditions of folk songs new and old. (Be sure to read the Voice review of their recently released album, North Sea Stories.) All three women are also music teachers who give workshops in Swedish folk singing techniques. Recently trio member Karin Ericsson Back took the time to answer some of Wanda Waterman’s questions about the conditions that created and that still maintain her astonishing gifts.

Undercover Performance

I grew up in Rättvik?a small community in the heart of Dalarna, Sweden. My childhood was calm and peaceful; I had my mother, father, and big brother, and many close relatives and friends. There were always confident adults close at hand.

I was extremely shy as a child. Most of the time I played by myself and wasn’t interested in other children. I wanted to sing and play in front of others but couldn’t bear for people to look at me, so my first appearances took place under a blanket.

When I was about 10 years old, I realized how much I was missing because of my shyness. So I decided to simply stop being shy. And it worked!

Get a Real Job

Music has been the center of my life from the very beginning. One of my earliest memories is of sitting on my rocking horse at home in the living room and singing along to an LP record of children’s songs.

I started taking piano lessons when I was six, and already music began to take up most of my life. My parents always encouraged my musicianship, but the decision to become a professional singer, I made all by myself. They told me to get a ?real job,? but I never followed their advice.

Falling for Folk

As a 12-year-old I visited Bingsjöstämman (one of the largest folk music events in Sweden) and fell head-over-heels for the music. Obviously I’d heard folk music before, but something extra . . . struck me at that moment in Bingsjö?I can’t put my finger on what it was.

After that experience, I bought a violin and practiced frantically for three months. I would set the alarm clock an hour earlier . . . to practice before going to school. I got a lot of . . . blisters on my fingers during that time!

A few years later I discovered the rich tradition of Swedish folk singing and became quite busy exploring the area.


When I was 17 I received a scholarship from the Siljan Chamber Music Association. Part of the award, in addition to a sum of money, was the chance to perform with professional musicians. I was honoured to participate in a concert with the soprano saxophonist Anders Paulsson and the organist Andrew Canning.

Getting that opportunity really strengthened my ambition to continue to improve myself in music studies, to struggle on in the tough music industry, and to dare hope for a career as a singer. This meeting I remember with great warmth?it will always feel relevant to me.

When I started playing the violin I became a member of Rättviks Lilla Spelmanslag?a youth instrument group that played traditional folk music. Our team leader, Jonas Holmén, violin teacher and musician, introduced me and many others to the world of folk music.

He brought me to visit older musicians, concert touring around the world, and an understanding of folk music, and encouraged further development and personal creativity. I’ve met many incredibly inspiring pedagogues during my education, but Jonas was the one that really gave me an excellent foundation to build on.

(To be continued.)