Interview · Line Tjørnhøj: ‘Hånden på Hjertet’ world premiere

On the Women’s Rights Day, the 8th of March, Line Tjørnhøj's piece ‘Hånden på Hjertet’ will be premiered by DR Pigekoret in Holmens Kirke. ‘Hånden på Hjertet’ explores the female voice in relation to the norms surrounding it. Edition·S has interviewed the composer on her sources of inspiration and creational process.

Line Tjørnhøj’s new girls choir piece Hånden på Hjertet (2019) is “a collection of female voices”, touching upon the norms surrounding being a woman today. In the following interview, Line Tjørnhøj elaborates on her thoughts and creational process of the piece.

Line Tjørnhøj · Photo by Anders Bigum

What lies behind the title ‘Hånden på Hjertet’?

There is a double-edged meaning to the title Hånden på Hjertet (the Hand on the Heart), the composer elaborates: “First of all, laying a hand on the heart is a Danish idiom which means ‘telling the truth’, ‘being sincere’, or ‘authentic’. Secondarily, the title refers to the Danish norm of shaking hands and the cultural clash which female Muslims in Denmark may face when coming across having to shake hands – for example at a ceremony following the acceptance of Danish citizenship”.

“When I was a child, I ran around playing in the woods, I made bonfires, I climbed trees – all kinds of things which were not normally associated with a fair, blonde girl. But I was both. And it made me feel sad and uneasy when the norms dictated otherwise. That’s why I have had an ongoing dialogue with DR Pigekoret on their relations to the norms and challenges of being a girl today”.

What was your sources of inspiration for the piece?

“Throughout my life, I have met many different women in completely divergent life situations – their voices are incorporated in the piece alongside the girls’ voices of DR Pigekoret, who represent our “current” culture. I find that we (myself included) all look for authenticity and honesty. So you might say that my piece brings us together in the hope of a more spacious and tolerant society”. 

How would you describe the process of working with the piece?

“In the meetings with DR Pigekoret – and the fact that I have collaborated with them before – I have come to know some things about what they have the courage to do and what they are able to do. So I have incorporated parts where they talk and yell while singing in order for the listener to sense that the girls bring their very own sound into the piece. I have written some performative parts and powerful, dissonant, or rhythmical sequences which might keep me from defining the piece as a traditional choral piece. In those parts, I have worked with the consequence of the girls choir genre as a devout piece, and made room for moments in the piece where some of the girls are free to do something other than the rest of the choir. But at the same time, I have made an effort to write some beautiful parts in order to bring forward their beautiful voices”.

“I have focused on the emotions and the lyrics when creating the piece. The lyrics have a lot of tonality inside of them. But working in Danish can be challenging. Choral music can easily lose its raw sound. That’s why I have worked with articulation and consonants. Echos of consonants and breathing noises are effects designed to lift the parts which are not sung in full voice, where it is much easier to achieve the energy of a speaking voice”.

DR Pigekoret · Photo by Daniel Stjerne

In what ways does ‘Hånden på Hjertet’ reflect “vocal beauty and female power”?

“When the girls in DR Pigekoret sing all together they are an immense power – but they are also powerful women in and of themselves. The piece raises questions such as; What is a girl? And what is a girl to do when they do not fit into a set of norms? In many societies, women are not allowed to scream or shout – which the piece reflects. It is a mixture of statements from female voices from conversations, poems, and diverse groups. It is about the pressure of norms such as the drinking culture, body culture, sexuality, or other socially related challenges or pressure. It is a diverse collection of female voices”. 

Read the press release from DR here (in Danish)

Read more about the composer and her work