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‘I feel grateful that people really value the arts in Sweden’

MY SWEDISH CAREEER: "Music has never really been a choice that I've thought about; it was always what I wanted to do, but it was out of my control – in a good way," says 32-year-old Emily Honeyman, a bassist in Stockholm’s Royal Swedish Opera.

'I feel grateful that people really value the arts in Sweden'
Emily Honeyman plays the bass in the Royal Swedish Opera. Photo: Private

“When I was really little, I would always ask my dad to put on the 'beautiful music' which is what I called classical music. For some reason there's always been that connection between me and music, and I was lucky that my parents always supported that, because it's not the most stable career,” she remembers.

As a musician, she explains, you usually have to go where the job is, so she ended up in Stockholm “almost accidentally”. After studying for three degrees in music, the audition in Stockholm was her 19th in around five years, but she's extremely happy that it brought her here.

The idea of luck comes up several times when Honeyman speaks. She feels lucky to have had found the cheap flights that persuaded her to take a chance on the overseas audition, to have performed well on the day, and ultimately, lucky to be living in Sweden. 

Although she had been interested in moving and working abroad for a while , the difficulty of flying with a bass made it hard to attend international auditions. When she found affordable flights with Norwegian Air, which offered a generous policy on transporting instruments, about three weeks before the audition, she booked them on a whim.

“The audition goes like this: there are three rounds over two days, with a preliminary round, semi-finals, and a final. I think it went from 26 musicians down to eight, to the three finalists in the last round,” Honeyman explains.

Unusually, each of the three rounds was carried out 'blind', with the musicians performing from behind a screen in order to avoid conscious or unconscious bias in the process. “So they picked me and saw who I was for the first time – this American girl with no connection to Stockholm at all!” says Honeyman. 


During the Swedish winter. Photo: Private

After getting the offer in November, she agreed to start work in February – in a place she knew nothing about. It was only when she arrived that she realized she hadn't even looked up the basics of the Swedish language in advance, since the main priority had been finding a place to stay and working out other logistical issues such as taxes.

“I didn't have an answer for 'why Sweden?'. I know a lot of people move abroad and are miserable or just don't fit in to the culture. I don't fit in here at all, but I feel like there's room here to not fit in, so I feel really lucky that I love it here.”

Working life in the orchestra is “unique”, Honeyman says, with regular rehearsals in the daytime and performances in the evening – occasionally up to four different productions happening simultaneously. The orchestra is the second oldest in the world, and will turn 500 in 2026.

“I never imagined I'd play in such a historic orchestra in my life,” the bassist says.

The instrument she plays on is a very tangible part of that history. Sweden's King Gustav III was murdered at a masked ball in the Royal Opera House, and Honeyman's bass – which was specifically commissioned for the opera and bears the opera's stamp – was playing in that orchestra. 

“I own my own bass but I never want to play it again because it's nothing compared to the opera bass!” she laughs, showing a picture of the instrument. “It's the nicest instrument I've ever played, with a really warm and big sound; it fits me physically and as a player.”


The bass. Photo: Private

Playing in an opera orchestra, as opposed to symphony or radio, is different and at times more demanding, particularly due to the length of performances.

“An average opera performance is three hours long and you can't be focused that entire time so it's an ebb and flow, whereas a symphony concert is usually two hours with an intermission in the middle,” she explains. “In a live performance anything can happen. You have to focus and listen to the singers, the conductor follows them and we follow the conductor – there are so many different elements involved.”

Another thing she appreciates about working in Sweden is the high standing of opera and classical music in society. “Most people you meet here have been to a classical concert or an opera at some point in their lives, whereas the US is a way bigger country so it's harder, but a lot of people don't even know that you can be a classical musician for a job. I feel grateful that people seem to value the arts in general in this country,” she says.

This is also reflected in the high levels of government funds available to the orchestra in Sweden, whereas American orchestras are often privately funded. 

The Royal Swedish Opera is currently going a kind of generational shift, with many players nearing retirement and Honeyman one of the first of a wave of new hires – which has also included her husband, a violinist. She says this creates a mix of youth and experience that makes work exciting, and describes her colleagues as “work family”.

Over 600 people work at the opera, and Honeyman says she has been pleasantly surprised by the warm atmosphere there. “Everyone is really friendly and welcoming, so when I heard stereotypes of Swedes being reserved, I was surprised. When I listen to my colleagues talk to each other, I feel like they're really listening to each other in a polite and genuine way,” she says.


With the instrument. Photo: Private

Despite this, the musician says she has also experienced cultural differences between the US and Sweden, particularly in the way people communicate.

“I'm opinionated and I'm not afraid to share my opinion, in a respectful way. With the election, in the US people talk really openly about who they're voting for and I'm curious about Swedish politics, especially as an American because we only really have two parties and here there are so many. But people just don't seem to talk about who they're voting for. So with things like that, if I'm being myself and saying what I'm thinking, people can be surprised. That's a big difference,” she says.

But while she is curious about cultural differences, these haven't caused her any problems, and she plans to stay in Sweden long term. Some of the things she most enjoys in Sweden are the national traditions, from food (with Lilla Ego and Omnipollo two Stockholm favourites) to the different customs around national holidays, which she says came as a contrast to America's much more modern culture. 

“Sweden feels more and more like home: when I leave, I feel excited to come back. I don't super fit in here but I also don't really fit in back home any more, I'm in this in-between place, which I like. I often remind my husband how lucky we are to live in this country, and Stockholm is perfect in terms of size and all the stuff there is to do. Both places can be home,” she sums up.

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MY SWEDISH CAREER

My Swedish Career: How I became Swedish Lapland’s first local wedding planner

Lisa Tousignant’s Swedish journey began with her taking a teaching job with IES in Stockholm. This month, she launched Arctic Lapland’s first wedding planning company.

My Swedish Career: How I became Swedish Lapland's first local wedding planner

Tousignant’s new company, Arctic Weddings of Lapland, opened for bookings on July 1st, and she is now focusing on arranging weddings for the coming winter season. You can see some images of weddings Tousignant has done on the company’s Instagram account. 

The idea came to her after colleagues she worked with while employed as the wedding coordinator at Icehotel, in Jukkasjärvi outside Kiruna, told her they often got weddings queries from both abroad and within Sweden.

“The photographers and the florist that I work with said they got calls all the time from people wanting to plan  weddings, but who had no idea where to start,” she said. “There’s no one doing destination wedding planning for Swedish Lapland who actually lives here and this area has so much to offer.”

Icehotel, the big international tourist draw in Jukkasjärvi, hosts dozen of weddings each year and Tousignant is set to continue her relationship with the hotel next year by doing wedding day coordinating. She hopes that Arctic Weddings of Lapland can build on the success that Icehotel has had with their customisable packages by offering different options for adventure within the whole region for winter and summer as well.

“I just had all this support from local people encouraging me to do it, because there’s so many options up here for beautiful weddings and adventure elopements. It’s hard to know where to start and how to navigate all the possibilities.” she says “The overwhelming support made me realise I have been building this idea in my heart for so long and wedding planning is what it is.”

 

A wedding at the Björkliden Mountain resort near Kiruna. Photo: Rebecca Lundh

She wants to what she calls “adventure weddings”. This week she was visiting the Nutti Sámi Siida offices to discuss collaborations. She plans to work with Fjellborg Arctic Journeys, who arrange dogsled trips and have a beautiful lodge camp that could accommodate large wedding parties. With her connection to Tornedalen, she plans to work with Huuva Hideaway, who specialize in Sami food, culture and history, and is also hoping to collaborate on events at Lapland View Lodge and Art Hotel. “i’m going to work my way down Norrbotten from Kiruna to Luleå connecting with all the venues and suppliers, “ she laughs.

 Tousignant’s journey towards being an Arctic wedding planner began 15 years ago when she left what she describes as “a successful career” doing public relations for CBC Television in Canada. 

“It just felt like life was supposed to be more than going back and forth to a job I didn’t love anymore,” she remembers, “I quit…sold all my stuff and went to Central and South America where I worked in hostels and roamed around for nearly two years getting to know myself in my mid-30’s.”

After her two years of travelling, she applied for teacher training college in Canada, got hired by Internationella Engelska Skolan (IES), and moved to their school in Nacka outside Stockholm. She thens taught at IES, and then at Futura Skolan International, for nearly 6 years, before following her sambo Martin Eriksson to the far-North of Sweden. 

“My sambo and I decided to have kids, “ she explains. “Making this decision really pushed him into wanting to change careers and follow his dream of becoming a shoe maker. We really try to support each other in following our dreams, so he moved up to Övertorneå in August while I stayed to complete my teaching contract.”

She moved up to Övertorneå in December, a week before their daughter was born. 
 
For her, moving to the far North of Sweden felt like coming home. “I immediately loved the North! People up here are chatty and friendly and very open.”
 
They lived in Övertorneå for almost three years, while Eriksson built up a successful bespoke boot business. But the Covid-19 pandemic reduced custom, and Eriksson took a job in Malmö shooting videos for the local police. But Malmö did not suit them. 
 
“After living in such a sleepy town, having two kids in the city was overwhelming and everyone missed the snow, so we took the first job opportunities we could in Norrbotten, my sambo [shooting video]for IRF (The Swedish Institute of Space physics) and me for Icehotel,” she says. 
 
 

An image from the website of Arctic Weddings of Lapland. Photo: Arctic Weddings of Lapland.
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