David Newkumet at Växjö Katedralskola
Above: The 2009 Lucia Concert
David Newkumet, a 1984 UMD graduate, teaches music theory and conducts choirs and ensembles, all navigating in his second language, Swedish. In 2009, he directed a concert that put the city he lives in, Växjö, Sweden, on the musical map.
Lucia Concert 2009
Newkumet is the director of choral music for Växjö Katedralskola, a K-12 private school. He has conducted the city’s annual Lucia (pronounced Lu-See-ah) Concert since he arrived at the school in 1989. Each year, Sweden chooses a musical group and a location for its television broadcast, seen by about 1.5 million viewers. In 2009, Newkumet’s choir and the 12th-Century Växjö Cathedral were chosen for the honor.
Newkumet kicked into high gear. He tapped his school and others to assemble 140 young women and men for the choir and a group for a 17-piece orchestra. He tweaked the traditional songs to give the concert that certain Newkumet flair. “We tried to make the concert humorous as well as serious,” said Newkumet, “We performed the song 'Santa Lucia' in its classic form, and it worked well, especially because it was set inside the majestic Växjö Cathedral.” But Newkumet had a surprise for Sweden. “We added a twist for the song by Staffan the stable boy. I used the tune, ‘My Boy Lollypop’ as the basis for the song.”
Shaking up the tunes for the Lucia Concert is a common technique for Newkumet. He has used tunes by the Village People, and he once he had a monk sing “Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen. The Beatles seem to be a favorite. One year he did a take off on their “Come Together,” and another time Lucia was serenaded with the song “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.” The Swedish television station has archived six web videos of the 2009 event: One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six. To view the Stefan song, see 3:45 minutes into the fourth clip.
Newkumet is at it again. The 2011 concert features Staffan songs based on "Witch Doctor" (think Ooh Eeh Ooh Ah Aah Ting Tang Walla Walla Bing Bang) and Reel 2 Reals "I Like to Move It."
In the fall of 1978, when Newkumet arrived at UMD, he already had years of experience in a Duluth high school choir. It was natural for him to join the University Singers and not long after he joined a troupe of players called the Elizabethan Singers. “It was great fun,” Newkumet said. “We went on tour with one of my favorite teachers, Dr. Vernon Opheim, and each winter we would put on a series of evening entertainment events. We’d wear Elizabethan costumes and sing, and the university served a Medieval dinner.”
It was around that time that he met Inga-Lill. She was an exchange student from Sweden, staying in Esko, a town near Duluth. Inga-Lill visited UMD; Newkumet visited Esko. “When she went back to Sweden, I never wrote so many postcards before in my life,” Newkumet said. Inga-Lill came back to Minnesota in 1983, and the two were married. He graduated from UMD in 1984, and they both moved to the Twin Cities where Inga-Lill graduated from the U of M St. Paul campus in 1987.
From Minnesota to Sweden
Newkumet fell for Inga-Lill’s hometown, Växjö. “It's a beautiful city,” he said. “There is clear, clean water. People are health-conscious; they ski, and skate, and play lots of winter sports. The bakeries are unbelievable." Inga-Lill Newkumet has her own career as an art teacher in Älmhult, a city near Växjö. They have two daughters, Erica and Sofia.
The Newkumets return to the U.S. as often as they can. The Växjö Katedralskola vocal ensemble, Raise The Roof, has toured the United States twice. In 2001, they were in Arkansas and Minnesota. In 2009, they visited Minnesota, New York, and New Jersey. They've performed in Minneapolis, Roseville, the Mall of America, Anoka, and of course, Duluth.
"UMD is a special place to us both," Newkumet said. "We both would like to come back to visit soon."
Written by Cheryl Reitan, December 2011.