Jonas Engström, director of the Stockholm Gospel Choir Festival: “This is both my way of living and sharing my faith”.
In Sweden, the rich culture of choir singing has helped Gospel music flourish.
The passion for a music that “touches and engages, tearing down walls and building bridges” is easily seen in Jonas Engström, a choir director and composer who leads the Stockholm Gospel Choir Festival, an effort bringing together professional artists and an amateur choir of 1,000 singers in August.
[photo_footer] Jonas Engström, in the interview with Evangelical Focus in Wisla (Poland), May 2023. / Photo: Evangelical Focus
“When I was 15 years old I did sing African American Gospel music for the first time and I thought, ‘wow, this is what I want to do with my life’”, Engström told Evangelical Focus. “I felt my whole life fitted into this music, with all the struggles, the overcoming, and the hope it contains”.
This music is special not only because “the whole congregation comes together as we sing” but also for its implicit commitment to “practice what you preach”. “If I sing ‘I’ll be there for you’, I have to put that in practice when I get out of the church”, says the Swedish musician.
This is why Engström and others share the Gospel culture through sheet music for choirs, as well as workshops and training days in Sweden and other parts of Europe.
[photo_footer] Gospel music workshops and training for both church and secular choirs are offered. / Photo: Svenska Gospel Verkstaden
But why has Gospel music become so popular in the north of Europe in the last three decades?
Sweden is a “choral country”, explains Engrström, a place where “for one hundred years we’ve understood the concept of coming together in choirs once a week”.
And the lyrics of Gospel songs is universal, he adds, since “experiences of trials and struggles, and a need for hope” are real also in prosperous countries like Sweden.
As a committed Christian, music and faith are strongly connected. “Gospel music has been both my way of living and sharing my faith”, the choir conductor explains. “It is all about storytelling”, with lyrics such as: “This is what Jesus has done for me, I do not have to worry, my life is in God’s hand”.
[photo_footer] A choir using gospel music sheets produced by Gospel Start. / Photo: Gospel Start
This is why music should not be limited to Christian worship but have a central role “in outreach”. “Sometimes we forget how we can use music ministry between people, sharing our faith”.
Engström is also excited about the ways music can help heal the soul. A recent seminar on “music as medicine” in Sweden shared examples of how healthcare, schools and civil society can use music to strengthen mental, social and existential health.
In his address, Engström, who has been named Choir Director of the Year 2022 by the Swedish Choir Leaders Association, spoke from his experience in projects like Break The Silence, a project focusing on young people.
[photo_footer] Jonas Engström leads several Gospel projects in Sweden. / Photo: Soulfulmusic.com
“In Sweden we have food on the table and everything else, but many are struggling with mental health. Music is a wonderful meeting place with ourselves when we need to calm down, but also a meeting place with other people”.
“And music is one of the few things that the Bible says we will do both here on earth and in heaven”, he concludes.