Cultural champions: Musician/teacher Liv Mari Schei and longtime student Amalie Henriksen share latest of many harmonic moments w/ Longyearbyen’s top citizen awards

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They’ve spent years together bringing their musical mastery to the community, first as teacher/student and now with the student also being a teacher. Both were shocked at winning Longyearbyen’s top citizen/youth awards within minutes of each other. And locals might do well to enjoy the talents of both during the next year since they may depart after that time.

The Longyearbyen Big Band performs during the Norwegian Constitution Day gala Thursday night at Kulturhuset. Photo by Mark Sabbatini / Icepeople.

“I really look up to her because she’s such an amazing lady and she knows so much,” said Amalie Henriksen, 18, winner of this year’s youth award, referring to her longtime music teacher Liv Mari Schei, winner of the adult honor. The teen said perhaps the biggest thing she’s learned is “to be secure about myself when on stage.”

Henriksen did her teacher proud while delivering a short and improvised acceptance speech at Kulturhuset on Thursday night after winning a 10,000-kroner scholarship for being a youth making an award-winning cultural contribution to the community. Liv Mari Schei, arguably Longyearbyen’s most commercially successful commercial musician during most of the 12 years she’s lived here, won this year’s Tyfus Statuette, an ironically named award presented to a person deemed to have “kept the community out of typhus.”

“She’s a worker,” Schei said of her pupil who now also teaches at the local cultural school. “She is smiling. The way she spoke to the audience during the evening is an example because she didn’t prepare anything beforehand.”

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Wreaths and flowers are laid at the base of the Skjæringa Memorial at midday Thursday in remembrance of those who died in Svalbard during World War II. Photo by Mark Sabbatini / Icepeople.

The awards at the end of an evening gala featuring songs and speeches culminated the traditional celebration in the world’s northernmost town of Norwegian Constitution Day, celebrating the country’s independence day declared in 1814. Longyearbyen Mayor Arild Olsen presented both winners, beginning with a description of the still-to-be-named scholarship winner.

The winner’s activities extend far beyond her formidable musical accomplishments as a performer and teacher, including various sports as a participant and coach, the acrobatic troupe Sirkus Svalnardo, the local youth council, student president, and the Longyearbyen Red Cross during the frantic effort to rescue people buried by a massive avalanche in December of 2015.

“The youth we will honor this evening is characterized by a leadership type that shows
maturity and responsibility,” Olsen said. “Other keywords that are indicative of the recipient are ‘takes great responsibility and shows great care for children and young people,’ ‘a gentle and positive youth that stands out,’ and ‘musicality.’ In recent years, the grant recipient has also become an important youthful contributor in the arenas of adults – obviously, as a matter of course.”

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Youths and adults indulge in traditional Norwegian smørbrød, hot dogs, cakes and other foods at Svalbardhallen as part of Thursday’s Norwegian Constitution Day celebration. Photo by Mark Sabbatini / Icepeople.

Henriksen – who was born in Tromsø, but has lived in Longyearbyen since the age of two – said she began to suspect she was the winner about halfway through the mayor’s presentation.

“Probably in the middle about leading the youth choir and digging during the avalanche in 2015,” she said.

Henriksen, a singer and multi-instrumentalist (she recently has been focusing on teaching other youths the flute), said she may spend the scholarship money on a new instrument. But she said that while she isn’t sure yet what she hopes to do with her life, it probably won’t be a career in music.

“I’m going to save for a year at work and then move down to the mainland,” she said. “I want to explore the opportunities that are there.”

In contrast to the surprise unveiling of the youth scholarship winner, Schei got a phone call a couple of weeks ago from city cultural director Roger Zahl Ødegård (himself a winner of the Tyfus award in 2013) informing her she was this year’s winner, allowing her to prepare a formal speech that’s a traditional part of the ceremony.

“It’s a great honor and I didn’t understand anything when Roger called me a while ago and he said ‘Liv Mari – are you sitting?'” she said in her acceptance speech. “I guess I really thought there were many others who were most deserving of this award, but then I became number 45 in the series. I am very proud and grateful.”

Schei, who moved to Longyearbyen in 2006, said after the ceremony her original plan was to stay for six months while she conducted research for her master’s degree. But that quickly changed.

“I got so inspired by Svalbard, the people and the life,” she said.

Schei began teaching music at Longyearbyen School and within a year of her arrival released the first of four albums notorious for their harmonious ballads blending Arctic/poetic/romantic themes. Those would be supplemented by several other multimedia collaborations with other artists focusing on themes such as polar heroines and Svalbard’s glaciers. She said her favorite project is the 2010 film/concert production “Polar Eufori,” particularly an arrangement where dozens of her students turned her original solo piano/vocal version into a full-blown ensemble.

It took about four or five years after arriving before she began to feel she was having an impact on Longyearbyen’s cultural scene, Schei said.

“I could see my music students because I’ve seen how the students have changed over many years,” she said.

Schei said her remaining time in Svalbard maybe short since she is considering moving with her family back to Kristiansand within a year or two. But she said before then she wants to further pursue the first thing that brought her here.

“I’d like to do more research about the society,” she said. “The changes here are so enormous. I’d like to study the music, the life, and the effects it’s having on the lives of the people here.”

 

 

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