At 23, it’s clear that Tegan Wahlgren has yet to learn the subtler points of media manipulation. Otherwise, why would the singer, violinist, and electronic producer admit that her introduction to music came by way of a show so spangled and hyped that it would make Liberace look subdued?
“When I was three or four,” the musician otherwise known as Wallgrin recalls, reached by phone at her East Vancouver home, “I remember watching an old VHS tape of Riverdance that my parents had recorded, and even though that’s the most commercialized, spectacular form of Celtic music there is, it stirred something in my soul. I remember seeing this woman with a blue violin playing, and I was like, ‘Wow! I want to be that lady!’ That’s what made me want to be a musician in the first place.”
An apprenticeship with a Swedish violin teacher followed, during which Wahlgren learned everything from classical sonatas to ABBA tunes, and then she pretty much got to do Riverdance for real, although in a somewhat more relaxed setting, by joining North Vancouver’s North Shore Celtic Ensemble.
“We went on tour in Scotland and Quebec and different places, so I was immersed in that more traditional Celtic stuff for a while,” she notes. “But I always had interests outside of that, and when I finished high school I was like, ‘Enough of that Celtic music!’ So I went to SFU for music composition, where I was exposed to a lot more new music, like experimental electroacoustic stuff.”
Today, she plays music that combines all of her loves, old and new. Her focus on clear, keening vocal melodies bears witness to her roots in northern European folk music, while her finely etched violin lines have sometimes a classical purity of tone. And both of these are typically set into a matrix of gritty electronic textures, often generated by processing vocal sounds through Logic software. Or at least that’s what we’ve gleaned through the few examples of the Wallgrin project that are available online; her debut album, Bird/Alien, is set for release in the spring of next year.
We’ll get a closer listen next week, however, when she’s invited to join pianist Rachel Kiyo Iwaasa, singer Carman J Price, and composer-performer Nicole Lizée in Music on Main’s annual Music for the Winter Solstice concerts, which offer a contemplative, humanist alternative to the forced jollity of so much other seasonal fare.
It’s an inspired booking. “I grew up without a religious background or anything like that, but for me music has essentially become my form of ‘spiritual expression’, if you want to call it that,” Wahlgren says. “It really is a form of meditation, or an expression of something larger, for me—as with many composers, I’m sure.”
And next week’s concerts are close to her heart in another way: she discovered Music for the Winter Solstice last year, after encountering—and falling in love with—former Music on Main composer in residence Carolyn Shaw’s similarly ethereal blend of violin and voice. Although this year’s program is still being developed, it will definitely include some of Wahlgren’s own music, works from current MoM composer in residence Lizée, and Shaw’s Winter Carol, an audience-participation benediction that is quickly becoming a seasonal standard.
Even gruff music critics have been known to get ever so slightly weepy when joining in Shaw’s chorus, and Wahlgren knows why. “It’s such a beautiful, simple melody, and everybody’s there, singing together,” she says. “It’s wonderful.”
Music on Main presents Music for the Winter Solstice at Heritage Hall next Thursday and Friday (December 14 and 15).