When Sissel stepped on the stage for the first rehearsal of last year's concert with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, the choir president threw wide his arms and said, "Welcome home."
"I felt like I had come home," said Sissel, who visited Salt Lake City again last week to talk about the CD and DVD from that 2006 concert. "Working with the choir was such a wonderful experience. I enjoyed every second of it."
It's not just that there's "such a vast, angelic, heavenly sound," she said, but also because "I think we feel the same about things. We have similar ideas of faith. It's also about the love of music. It's about knowing that it is more than music. There is something extra."
That something extra permeates Sissel's music and has taken her to worldwide acclaim.
Born in Bergen, Norway, Sissel (she goes by just her first name) came to the world's attention when she performed at the Lillehammer Olympics in 1994. "That was a very special moment. I loved the Olympics. There was such good energy there."
Her ethereal voice appeared on the mega-selling soundtrack of the "Titanic" movie. She has toured widely in Scandinavia and Europe.
Her most recent project has been a PBS concert and CD, titled "Northern Lights." That, too, has been a wonderful experience, she said. The CD was recorded "in a tiny little village in Norway last March." And she is on the PBS pledge-drive circuit.
The CD features songs about winter, including some Christmas songs. "But it's really about who I am," she said. It's about finding the light during dark Norwegian days when there is very little sunshine, and it features several traditional Norwegian songs. "Norwegian music is close to my heart. There are such hauntingly beautiful melodies."
That's another reason she is so excited about "Northern Lights" and the "Spirit of the Season" with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
"Some of these songs have survived for hundreds of years. I like the fact that now other people get to hear them. In some cases we've added English lyrics, so that now other people can understand. I love those old songs. They touch something deep inside," she said.
Sissel will return home for the holidays; she's actually based in Copenhagen now. "I'm so excited for people there to see this wonderful concert, to hear this beautiful music." The concert will be shown all over Norway.
"The newspapers have been doing stories about this 'secret Sissel album,' and people have been saying, 'Where can we get it? Where can we get it?' So now I'm very excited that they are shipping the CDs to Norway. They will be under many Norwegian Christmas trees this year, I think. I'm so proud to have had this chance to work with the choir and to do Christmas music."
Music is a big part of the Norwegian Christmas celebration, she said. "We celebrate on the evening of the 24th. We go to church at 3 or 4 in the afternoon. Then we have dinner. Then we hold hands and walk around the Christmas tree singing."
There are always lots of cookies, and there are always lots of candles. "I love candles," she said. Maybe because there's not much light in the winter. "But I don't mind that so much. It's always so white with the snow and so beautiful."
Sissel has two daughters at home waiting for the Christmas celebration. "I can't wait for my family to see the concert. I've told them so much about Salt Lake City."
Of course, this won't be her last visit to the city. "I'll be back in February to do a concert at Abravanel Hall." That one will just be her and her band "they are all very strong musically" and will feature a variety of music.
In the past she has done everything from operatic arias and classical songs to traditional folk, modern jazz, pop even rap and hip-hop. "I'm trying to focus more," she said with a laugh, "but I also like to do music that suits the mood I'm in."Right now, that mood is a joyous celebration of Christmas. "I love Christmas music. It can be August, and all I have to do is hear 'Silent Night,' and it immediately puts me in the mood."