Midwest Trust Center presents the tenThing Brass Ensemble at 8 p.m. Dec. 2 in Yardley Hall at Johnson County Community College. (photo by Anna-Julia Granberg/Blunderbuss)

Norway’s all-woman tenThing Brass Ensemble will share ‘a feeling of Norwegian Christmas at JCCC’s Yardley Hall

One of the ways people celebrate the holiday season is with an Advent calendar. Starting the first of December, they count the days until Christmas with little gifts of candy or trinkets.

It’s a tradition celebrated in many countries, including Norway, where it’s called a julekalender.

This year, the second day’s gift is a big one here in Kansas City. It’s a visit from the Norwegian group tenThing Brass Ensemble, presented by the Midwest Trust Center at Yardley Hall at Johnson County Community College.

The concert has a Christmas focus, presenting music from Norway, the States, and across Europe.

Pronounced “ten ting,” it’s an all-woman, all-Scandinavian ensemble headed by virtuoso trumpeter Tine Thing Helseth (tee-na ting hel-set). About 15 years ago, she and some fellow student trumpeters decided they wanted to play more together.

“It was just a fun thing in the beginning,” said Helseth. The group started in 2007.

“We were four trumpet girls who studied together . . . we just wanted to play great music,” said Helseth. They wanted to be able to perform the same virtuosic literature that is available for string orchestras. From those inklings, they’ve commissioned arrangements of classic pieces by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Georges Bizet, Edvard Grieg and others over the years.

“We were girls and we thought, ‘Hey, why don’t we invite our friends who study who are girls, to show off this great brass tradition we have in Norway.’” According to Helseth, there’s more gender equality in Norwegian schools and ensembles, compared to other countries. There are so many women playing in Norway, she said, “that it’s not a big deal at all” to have an all-woman group.

With tenThing, it’s more about friendship and high-level playing.

They made their first tour to the United States in 2017 and then their Kansas City debut in 2019, performing at the Kauffman Center. Helseth, as a touring soloist, is on the road much of the year (she finished up a solo tour in the States this fall) performing with orchestras all over the world. It’s a pleasant change of pace to travel with the women of tenThing.

“I really enjoy not being on my own all the time, on the road. To travel with them, it’s a lot of fun.”

The group includes four trumpets, four trombones, horn and tuba. All their arrangements are written by Jarle Storløkken, a guitarist and composer who helps craft tenThing’s unique sound (and has also worked with Helseth on some of her solo projects).

“It is a sound world that we play in together that is built on trust and on joy of playing together. Everyone needs to contribute equally; it is very much a creative space for everyone,” said Helseth. “Since we don’t play together all the time it’s a bit extra-special when we do.”

The julekalendar is one of Helseth’s favorite traditions, a childhood memory that she continues each season. In 2020, while so many people were staying home and far from loved ones, she made a musical calendar, sharing a daily video on Facebook.

For the concert in Midwest Trust Center’s Yardley Hall, the eclectic program includes folk music from Norway, classical selections from Johann Sebastian Bach and Arcangelo Corelli, and popular tunes from the United States. They also looked to music from other cultures that have become part of the American seasonal playlist, like Gustav Holst’s British “In the Bleak Midwinter” and “Carol of the Bells,” which has its roots in Ukrainian folk song.

Though not specifically holiday-related, the Norwegian selections are tunes that get Helseth “in the mood for Christmas.” These pieces, which open the program, are “very traditional folk. For us, it’s our Scandinavian, Norwegian identity.” They include “Mitt hjerte alltid vanker” (My heart is ever present), “Eg veit himmerik ei borg” (I know a stronghold in heaven), and “Et lite barn å lystelig” (A tiny child so full of joy).

tenThing concerts often include some choreography. Together with familiar carols performed by virtuoso brass players, it’s an exciting way to ring in the holiday season.

Midwest Trust Center presents tenThing Brass Ensemble at 8 p.m. Dec. 2 in Yardley Hall at Johnson County Community College. For more information and tickets visit www.jccc.edu.

Libby Hanssen

Originally from Indiana, Libby Hanssen covers the performing arts in Kansas City. She is the author of States of Swing: The History of the Kansas City Jazz Orchestra, 2003-2023. Along with degrees in trombone performance, Libby was a Fellow for the NEA Arts Journalism Institute at Columbia University. She maintains the culture bog "Proust Eats a Sandwich."

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