The Singing – Why Danes sometimes break out in song

If you are visiting Denmark around Midsummer’s Eve, join a Danish family celebration or are settling into a new job at a major Danish company like Rambøll – you may suddenly find the Danes around you bursting into song.

Kids. Adults. Business leaders with their employees. School children and their teachers. University students and their professors. Complete strangers in public libraries.

They all sing together. And we Danes love it.

We sing at work to start the day. We sing at the lighting of the town’s Christmas tree. Sometimes at the beginning of a meeting. We sing on the first day of school or university. We sing at random public events and holidays throughout the year – and at city cafés of an evening.

We have songs for almost every occasion: From Christmas to Midsummer. To mark the passing of the seasons. To start and end the day. To remember historical events – even the ones we would rather forget.

In short: Danes love to sing – together.

Singing together – a very short historical overview of a long history of singing
People have been singing together for centuries in many parts of the world as part of religious services or in the singing of national anthems. In Denmark, however, we seem to have taken the idea a step further even than our Nordic neighbours with the concept of “FÆLLESSANG” – literally translated “common-singing”. And the phenomenon has been experiencing a new renaissance over the past few years.

Like the Danish word for community – “FÆLLESSKAB” or “common-ness” – the purpose of “FÆLLESSANG” is to pull people together in a common or shared experience, where each individual contributes with what he or she has to give. In “Fællessang” there are no soloists, but everyone contributes with their voice to make a common musical experience.

A rather simplified historical explanation of how the Danish tradition of singing together came about dates the phenomenon to the dawn of the Age of the Nation States in the 19th century. The writing and singing of new Father-/Motherland-songs became a way of bringing people together and of forging new common national identities – in Denmark more-so than in most other countries.

As the 19th century progressed, Denmark and the Danish people went through times of both triumph and humiliation. The act of singing together brought hope and a strengthened sense of national identity no matter the occasion.

Singing in times of war
During the early years of the German occupation of the Second World War (1940-1945), singing was used as peaceful resistance against the German occupational forces while bringing the newly occupied nation together in dark times. At so-called “Alsang” – “All sing” – events, people would come together and sing, usually ending the event with the singing of the national anthem. The first event was held in Aalborg on July 4th 1940 with roughly 1500 participants.

The movement quickly spread to the rest of the country and on September 1st 1940, a coast-to-coast Alsang took place with about 720.000 people joining nationwide – 150.000 in Copenhagen alone. Alsangs were held regularly throughout Denmark until 1943, when the occupational forces prohibited public gatherings.

Then and now
In recent years the idea of FÆLLESSANG has gained new popularity as schools, universities, businesses and public institutions have integrated it into their daily routines.

Whereas the act of singing together in the original form was an act of strengthening the sense of shared nationality or a common conviction, FÆLLESSANG in its contemporary form seems to be primarily the sense of “togetherness” and of creating something unique together. The “I” still becomes a “we”, but the songs that are sung are of less importance and greater diversity. The main point is that songs are sung together.

This may also explain the many new types of FÆLLESSANG events popping up here and there. In smart city cafés or in a Copenhagen public square for the annual Kulturnat (Night of Culture) in October. Or as my own personal favourite:

The Marathon Sing-along held every year on June 21st from 7 am to1030 pm in celebration of the summer solstice. This event brings together hundreds of people of all ages and walks of life in singing the songs of one of Denmark’s most popular songbooks from cover to cover.

Bodily benefits of singing
Singing together, research tells us, is not only good for the voice. It also produces a sense of togetherness and belonging, lowers stress levels, releases endorphins – the body’s very own “happy hormone” – and quite incredibly, it makes hearts literally beat together as one.

And so it seems that there are historical, social and medical explanations for the Danish “singing together”. And should you get the chance, please join us – or just listen in.



The Weather – a love/hate relationship

In need of a perfect conversation-starter for interacting with the Danes? The Weather is your go-to subject.

We Danes have a long-standing love/hate relationship with our weather. We love/hate to talk about it despite the fact that it is comparably uneventful: We do have the occasional hurricane, snow storms or torrential rains (and must, according to the national weather service DMI, prepare ourselves for more of these in the future). We do not, however, do tornadoes, cyclones or other forms of extreme weather.

So why this fascination with the weather?
Needless to say, it is hard to pinpoint exactly why we revert so easily to this particular topic of conversation. However, being a country with deep roots in both farming and fishing, it does make some sense:

To fishermen heading out to sea or farmers anxiously following the development of their crops, knowing the weather was and is of great importance. In fact, there is a long standing joke that Danish farmers are never really happy with the weather: Either it is too dry or too wet, too hot or too cold, too much sun or too little.

But in all fairness, Danish farmers are not the only ones, who are this particular about the weather – this is a trait shared by most Danes.

We really, really need the sun – like REALLY need it
Another reason that we are especially keen to discuss the weather, may be found in our Northerly geographical position, which lands us in the winter-darkness/summer-lightness zone. Anyone visiting Denmark during the winter or spending their first winter in Denmark will, I think, quickly attest to the fact that the Danish winter darkness can be a tough thing to get through.

It gets especially hard if the winter is mild. Mild weather often means days of perpetual greyness without even the slightest glimpse of the sun in the sparse hours between sunrise and sunset. Cold temperatures and snow often bring more sunshine, but alas: Denmark rarely enjoys the same level of winter as many of our neighbours in Norway and Sweden (which is also why Danish participation at Olympic Winter Games is usually dwarfed by our Scandinavian neighbours – but I will return to this at a later time).

The greyness of winter needs to be countered by the White Nights of summer, which may be enjoyed between May and the beginning of August. If the summer weather does not perform as expected – making it hard to “refuel” on sunshine, light, and Vitamin D – the natives start getting restless. The summer of 2017 has been just such a summer.

As we watch the calendar once more turn us onto the path leading to winter darkness, you as a visitor may notice our rising frustration. This is when the Danes start to talk about, discuss, grumble and curse at – the weather.

But come back another year, where there is sun aplenty, and we will have forgotten all about this. We will still talk about the weather, though … as always.

What made Danes talk about the weather in the summer of 2017:

Hello world – and welcome

With “Why Danes Do, What They Do, When They Do It” I wish to give visitors to Denmark, expats making their home in Denmark, and any one who is new to or curious about all things Danish, a look at the history of Denmark, Danish traditions, norms, mores and peculiarities:

From why we put real candles on our Christmas trees and how we celebrate our annual milestones – to our love/hate relationship with the weather, the people who shaped our country (be they fictional or real, for “Hamlet the Dane” cannot be left out) and, of course, our illusive concept of “hygge”.

In other words: The why, what, when and how of Denmark, Danish culture and the Danes.

I am a storyteller.
I love bringing stories to life – from great tales of fiction to great tales from history, art and culture. Thank you for joining me – and please share.