Nyckelharpa Stämma in Bay Area -
Instrument & Dance Workshops……
by Virginia Thompson

The 5th Annual Nyckelharpa Stämma of the American Nyckelharpa Association will has two venues this year. The first is in Lahaska, Pennsylvania, October 1 - 3, 1999. The second, co-sponsored by NCS, is in the San Francisco Bay Area. It’s planned for October 22 - 24, 1999. Peter "Puma" Hedlund will be the guest musician at both events. While focusing on nyckelharpa, The Bay Area event includes a dance workshop (Bondpolska from Viksta), concerts, an evening dance, and workshops for fiddlers and players of other instruments.

Peter "Puma" Hedlund is one of Sweden's most ac-complished folk musicians. He has been playing fiddle since 1966 and nyckelharpa since 1971. He was awarded the title of Riksspelman, national folk musician, in 1975 and won the World Nyckelharpa Championship in 1992. Peter is especially known for his technique and powerful, warm and rich tonal quality on nyckelharpa.

The nyckelharpa, or key fiddle, is one of the world's most genuine traditional folk instruments. This 16-stringed instrument, which traces its lineage back to the 14th century, is unique to Sweden. Peter specializes in traditional music from the instrument's home province of Uppland, just north of Stockholm.

As a Professor at the Swedish Royal Academy of Music, Peter carries out his passion for the nyckelharpa by pursuing its history and helping others understand what folk music is about - "playing together, having fun and enjoying musical camaraderie." He states, "Nyckelharpa music is probably the only type where rank beginners can play with old masters as well as the current idols in a completely natural and relaxed setting. This is what I strive for in all of my workshops."

Below is an event and price schedule for the west coast weekend. If you plan to go to separate events of the Oct. 22 - 25 weekend, pay at the door. A special package price is available for attendees of the music workshops. Preregistration for the package deal is required, and is encouraged for other attendees. People known to play nyckelharpa should soon be receiving a registration form. If you haven't received one, and are interested, contact Virginia Thompson at or (510) 527 - 7272, or Anita Siegel at (650) 961 - 3572, or see the ANA web page at for more information.

Nyckelharpa Workshops and Jam Sessions
7 -10 pm, Fri. Oct. 22, Potluck dinner & Jam session at 77 Mt. View Avenue, Los Altos, $15
10 am - 4 pm, Sat. Oct. 23, NH Workshop,  1st United Methodist Church, 2915 Broadway, Redwood City (lunch included) $35
11 am - 4:30 pm, NH Workshop, Sun. Oct. 24, 1015 King Drive, El Cerrito (brunch and dinner included) $35
Concert and Dance Activities (Partners not required)
4:00 - 5:30 pm, Sat. Oct. 23, Dance Workshop - Bond Polska from Viksta, 1st United Methodist Church, 2915 Broadway, Redwood City, $3
7:30 - 11:00 pm, Sat. Oct. 23, Concert and Dance, 1st United Methodist Church, 2915 Broadway, Redwood City, $10
8:00 -10:00 pm, Sun. Oct. 24, House Concert in Berkeley - By advance reservation only; contact Stew or Virginia at 510-527-7272. $10
Package registration for Nyckelharpa players: All events Friday evening through Sunday evening: $90
Separate Auxiliary Event  7:30 - 10:00 pm, Mon. Oct. 25, Workshop for fiddlers and other musicians, 1925 Hudson Ave., El Cerrito $10 at the door

Pay at the door for separate events. §

"Hulling" to appear in Bay Area

The Swedish folk band "Hulling" will appear locally in October at Henfling's Firehouse Tavern (a smoke-free environment) up in Ben Lomond on Tuesday, Oct. 19. The group is a Stockholm based band playing their own brand of Swedish folk music. They have a great respect for the rich Swedish folkmusic tradition and base their own music on it. While most of their inspiration comes from Swedish sources, they have also borrowed from Norway and other areas. They are very popular in Sweden, and have a CD out, "Hårdhajen." Group members are: Johanna Bölja - vocals, Ola Hertzberg - nyckelharpa, Jens Engelbrecht - guitar & mandola, Dan Sjöberg - fiddle & hardingfele, Patrik Lindberg - electric tamburine, bass drum & triangle.

The concert is set for Tues., Oct. 19th at 8pm. Tickets are $8 if ordered in advance, and $10 at the door. For information or to order tickets by phone call (831) 335-1642. Tickets can be purchased by mail by sending a check and your phone # at least 4 days before the show to: Henfling's Firehouse Tavern, PO Box 183, Ben Lomond, Ca 95005. Pre-ordered tickets will be held at the door. Information is also available on the web at You must be 21 or over to attend - (it is a bar, after all - not because of the show's contents!!!)

Please note our address change below!!!
The address for the Northern California Spelmanslag is now 321 McKendry Drive, Menlo Park, CA 94025-2919.
Jim Little’s email address (for web calendar entries) has also changed to <>.

And a correction:
The Norwegian names for red and black currants were switched on page 10 of the Spring-Summer issue. Red currents are rips, and black currants are solbær. §

Frifot hotfooting it about the US

On Thursday September 16, 1999, the Swedish band Frifot (Acoustic Masters of Swedish Traditional Music) will appear at Freight & Salvage, 1111 Addison Street, Berkeley, CA 94702 8 pm. Frifot brings together three of the most colorful characters in the Swedish traditional music scene. Per Gudmundson (fiddle, viola, bagpipes, and voice), known for his poetic interpretation of traditional tunes, is one of Sweden’s best fiddlers and bagpipers. Ale Möller (mandola, flutes, harp, hammered dulcimer, harmonica, and voice) is a master of many instruments and is one of the major forces in the search for new sounds and expression of Nordic music. Lena Willemark (voice, fiddle and flute) brings with her a treasure chest of extraordinary tunes and songs that she interprets both as a fiddler and, above all, as an extremely distinctive singer.

In February, 1999, Frifot performed (spon-sored by the Swedish government) at the North American Folk Alliance Conference in Albuquerque. Of their appearance there, the editor of Folk Roots magazine wrote: "...if there was one band that became the talking point of the whole event, it surely was Sweden’s Frifot - multi-instrumentalist Ale Möller (who our readers will probably have first encountered back in the ‘80s as a member of Filarfolket), singer/fiddler Lena Willemark and fiddler/piper Per Gudmundson. I’ve enjoyed their records, but nothing prepares you for the intense power of their live set, Willemark seemingly putting every bone of her body into her vocalising. People were coming out of their show-cases visibly shaken." Per Gudmundson and Ale Möller also appeared here in the SF Bay area last winter to enthusiastic acclaim. Tickets are $14.50 in advance or $15.50 at the door. Tickets can be ordered by mail at least 10 days in advance with payment by check (Freight &Salvage, 1111 Addison Street, Berkeley, CA 94702. Include a self addressed stamped envelope for mailing the tickets back to you). Tickets can also be bought at the Freight & Salvage box office (Mon - Sat, 1 - 6 pm) or at Bass outlets. For more information, contact the Freight & Salvage Showline at (510) 548-1761.

Frifot's complete tour is listed below:
Sept. 12th Minneapolis, MN Cedar Cultural (612) 338-2674
Sept. 14th Ann Arbor, MI Ark (734) 761-9104
Sept. 16th Berkeley, CA Freight & Salvage (510) 548-1761
Sept. 17th Denver, CO Swallow Hill (303) 777-1908
Sept. 18th Santa Monica, CA McCabe's (310) 828-4497
Sept. 19th Bishop, CA Millpond Festival (760) 878-8014
Sept. 21st Ojai, CA Ojai Valley Women's
Sept. 22nd Chicago, IL World Music Festival
Sept. 23rd Chicago, IL World Music Festival
Sept. 24th Bloomington, IN Lotus Festiva (812) 336-6599
Sept. 25th St Louis, MO Focal Point (314) 726-4707 §

Fiddle Tips - Managing the Bow
by Sarah Kirton

Every once in a while, friends suggest that I write an advice column - not for the lovelorn, but for fiddle players. I've resisted up till now, but have finally decided to bite the bullet. We'll start at the beginning, with tips on managing the bow, and then the fiddle. Why start with the bow? It seems to be the hardest thing to get right, and the hardest to correct when you've acquired bad habits. I'm assuming you have someone to help you if you're a rank beginner - this is not in-tended to be a self-contained course.

There are three important things to remember about holding the bow, as well as about actually bowing; balance, balance, and balance. Balancing the bow rather than gripping it helps free you from muscle tension and allows you to move (what else but) freely.

Let's try a couple of experiments. Reach out to touch something in front of you. Did you raise and/or tense your shoulder? Freeze your wrist so it couldn't bend?? Tense up all the muscles in your upper or lower arm??? Get cramps in your fingers???? Of course not. Bowing should be just as effortless. Let your arm hang at your side and then bring it up to touch your nose. You may have gone a little cross-eyed finding your nose, but I doubt that you were any more tense than when reaching for that object. Now stretch your arm straight out to the side, relax, and touch your face. Tensions anywhere? I hope not. Stretch your arm out to the side again and relax your hand and wrist, letting your hand and fingers dangle. Keeping your elbow at or a bit below shoulder height, bring your wrist in to just in front of your nose, letting your hand dangle in front of you. You still should feel relaxed. This motion is very similar to that of bowing, and your hand and fingers are in a very similar position. You're probably still pretty relaxed.

Try these experiments again and note how relaxed and natural the motions are. If any muscles tense up, try again, keeping them relaxed. Now try bowing. Is the motion as relaxed and natural as during the experiments? Do you grip your bow tightly? Can you move your wrist freely? Do you raise or tense your right shoulder? These are probably the most common problems signaling a tense bow arm. A tense bow arm or hand not only makes everything harder, but is reflected in the tone quality of your playing. It can cause not only annoying aches, pains, and klutziness, but can create real muscle problems which require recovery time. This tension is often caused by gripping the bow rather than balancing it, or by tension in the shoulder, neck, or back. Most of the rest of this article will focus on how to balance and use the bow without resorting to grip-ping, or even "holding", it.

How do you balance a bow, you ask. If you're lucky, someone's shown you, but you may or may not have been careful to continue balancing it amongst all the other odd things that fiddle players think they should do. Although it's a natural way to hold the bow, most of us get so tense about the whole thing that we need to review this lesson again and again. So here goes. The frog end of the bow stick is balanced on the thumb. The fingers lie lightly over its top to keep it from rolling off the thumb. It really doesn't take much pressure to keep the bow in place. (The fingers also have some other functions, which we'll get to in a bit.) The tip end of the bow is supported by the fiddle, so you don't have to worry about all that weight at the other end. Try this next exercise with a pencil or similar object, so we'll eliminate that weight. Turn your right hand palm up, relax it, and place the pencil across it as shown in figure 1. (The alternate position shown in figure 1 is often used by hardingfele players and by some fiddlers. It seems to work well, but can limit your possibilities, especially on violin.) The pencil should cross the index finger at about the middle knuckle, and cross the tip of the little finger. Exactly where it crosses the other fingers will depend on your hand. Take a good look at its position and then put it down. Now let your right hand hang naturally at your side. Relax your hand completely, letting your fingers curl in a bit. Raise your hand - your fingers will probably curl in a bit more. Your thumb is probably bent in, pointing to about the middle of your middle finger. Move it a wee bit to touch your middle finger, forming a rough oval. Your thumb is still bent. Now pick up and position the pencil again across your open hand. Let you hand relax and (try to) close as before. Your fingers may not be able to curl in as much as they'd like because the pencil is in the way. (This creates some of the natural tension that helps hold the bow.) Put the tip of your thumb against the pencil on the opposite side of where it crosses your middle finger, recreating that oval. Your thumb is still bent. The flat surface of the thumbnail should be more or less perpendicular to the stick, so that the thumb tip rests on the stick. Figure two shows the position of the thumb and the 2nd finger on the bow. The other fingers are lifted out of the way so you can see. The “angle a” shown in fig. 2 should be comfortable for you. (My first teacher wanted this angle to be 90° to the stick, something my hand refuses to do.) Pressing just hard enough to not drop the pencil, turn your hand over, palm down. DON'T grip the pencil. Try pressing so lightly that you drop the pencil when you turn your hand over, (this is harder to do than you think!) and on successive tries, press a little harder until you find the point where you just barely don't drop the pencil. It may be physically uncomfortable to hold so lightly - i.e. your hand wants to curl a little more in its most relaxed position, so let it curl. You should be able to wriggle your wrist, arm, and shoulder all over the place. Try it. People often start out relaxed and tense up after holding (I mean balancing) the pencil a while. If you're tense, shake out your hand and arm, start over, and remember - ITS JUST A PENCIL! After a few tries, leave it and come back in an hour or so. Notice that you really are simply balancing the pencil on the tip of your thumb, and using the fingers as weights on top. And notice that it's no big deal.

Try this with the bow, but as you turn your hand palm down with the bow in it, be sure to support the bow tip with the fingers of the left hand. Try lifting your bow-hand fingers one at a time, then three at a time, alternating which finger is left on the bow. Keep your thumb bent. Try lifting all of the fingers at once - you probably can balance the bow for a short time this way. Put your fingers back down. Their weight alone should hold the bow firmly in place - no extra tension required. Try playing with only one finger in place.

You can practice the pencil exercise at work without anyone being the wiser. Pick up a pencil or pen this way several times a day. Use that hand to gesture, let it hang at your side in the relaxed hand position, use any one of the fingers to scratch your forehead, or twirl the pencil and let it go back into "bow" position. Remember to keep your thumb bent but relaxed. Let holding your pencil that way when you're not writing become second nature. You, and your muscles, will soon become convinced that holding a bow is easy. It IS easy. It's our warped expec-tations of what it is to play something so "weird" as a violin that's made it hard. When you pick up the bow, don't think "I'm holding the bow." Think instead that you're balancing it. You've just discovered how easy this is.

This free and easy balance of the bow allows us much greater control of what's going on. All our muscles are free to move to help our thumb - that main point of contact - guide the bow. Note that it's important (as well as easy) to keep the thumb bent and keep that circle we talked about intact and loose feeling. If we don't bend the thumb, our finger and wrist motions are limited. (Try holding the pencil with a straight thumb, staying as relaxed as possible, and compare it to what you can do with a bent thumb. For me there's only a small difference when using a pencil, it's almost more in the feeling of free-ness than any actual restriction with a straight thumb. But the weight of the bow and pressing on it a bit to get a tone make the difference in the two thumb positions much greater.) The other problem with a straight thumb is that it's the way our hand is when we want to grip something, rather than when we're relaxed, so it's almost impossible to resist tensing up and gripping the bow. And the minute one part of our body begins to tense up, the rest begins to follow. What about the function of those fingers - other than providing weight. The first finger provides the extra weight necessary to get the bow to dig into the string and provide some tone. The little finger provides a counter-weight, helpful when you're at the frog and the fiddle isn't supporting much of the rest of the bow, and allows for some fancy bow work seldom used by folk fiddlers but common in classical music. Some fiddlers, and many hardingfele players, use one of the alternative holds in figure 2. No matter which position is used, fiddlers often raise the little finger, or even "raise" all but the index finger by tipping their hand so that the side of the index finger rests on the stick. Classical violinists always keep their fingers on the stick. The standard hold is certainly the most versatile. The two middle fingers help to control the angle of the flat of the bow hair to the string. The thumb, as well as being the balance point, guides the bow, with the fingers along for the ride, pro-viding a bit more control, weight, and any extra pressure needed. This is another important thing to remember. The need for extra pressure is another reason to keep a bent thumb. Extra pressure plus a straight thumb turns into a grip very quickly. And klutziness follows along as an unwanted companion. About that little finger - keep it bent, too- don't lock any of its joints. Any time you lock a joint you lose a whole set of possible motions and invite tension into your playing life. If you're a beginner, learn to bow well with all four fingers on the stick before trying to lift the little finger. It's nice to have both options available.

The arm motion while bowing should be continuous and fluid. The upper arm and shoulder should move very little, and in long armed people, they seem not to move at all. Let's look at an up bow. At the tip, the arm should be fully extended - the elbow joint straight or nearly so, depending on arm length. I always feel as if I'm reaching a bit forward on a down bow just as I approach the tip of the bow, but long armed men report none of this feeling. The mirror tells me that I'm not actually reaching forward, it just feels that way. As you begin the up bow, short armed people will move their upper arm a little bit back as they begin to bend their elbow from a straight position. Longer armed people, whose elbows are already bent while at the tip of the bow, won't do this. The upper arm quickly assumes a stable position - in approximately the same plane as your back. The elbow continues to bend, the wrist bending so that its "outer angle" is approaching your body. This flexible, relaxed wrist is of utmost im-portance. There comes a point (for me about three fourths way through the up bow) that the upper arm needs to move forward a bit. The wrist continues to bend, and when at the frog, I can imagine that my wrist might hit my nose. Exactly where these changes in motion happen depends on your body and the angle your fiddle points away from your body. I find that a whole range of bowing problems can be traced to a lack of these motion changes, or to rough transitions between them.

As the bow comes up, the bowstick gradually tips away from the fiddler, and the flat of the hair is at a larger and larger angle to the string as the bow approaches the frog. You may also feel that your hand is inscribing the bottom portion of a very large circle, and the angle between the lengthwise axis of the bow and the string may change (ie, your bow may tilt more toward the string above the one you're playing when right at the frog, and toward the string below the one you're playing when right at the tip. This is easy, and normal, with a bridge cut for classical music, but when playing double stops or when playing with a bridge cut flat for folk music, this becomes difficult. I suspect some tone quality is lost at the tip and frog from a lack of this motion. Keep your upper arm and your bow more or less parallel to each other. Don't raise your elbow or your shoulder, and stay relaxed, free and open.

I mentioned the angle of the flat of the bow hair to the string. This angle is one of the things that determines tone quality and to some extent, volume. In general, when bowing at the tip, the flat of the bow hair is flat, or almost flat, against the string. During the up bow, the bow stick tips further and further away from the fiddler, and the bow is more and more on its outside edge, with the flat of the hair beginning to face the fiddler. At the frog, the angle between the string and the flat of the hair can be significantly larger than 45°.

There's a lot more about bowing that I could say, and you've probably heard most of it somewhere before. Stay relaxed, keep the bow parallel to the bridge and about halfway between the bridge and the end of the fingerboard. Attack the string - keep your bow in the string, let the bow "bite" the string. Use long bows, use short bows. Press, don't press too hard. You know the drill.

But there's one Zen-like thing that's not often said. Let your back simply be the place where your arm is attached, no more, no less - and be aware of that. Let your motions originate from that attachment point. (Yes, I know that other muscles are involved, but bear with me.) Try standing straight, shoulders back, relaxed, and a perhaps bit down (not slouched, just down, and heavyish). Imagine hanging from a string attached to the center of your breastbone. Keep your weight centered on your heels and the back plane of your body. Know with all your being that your weight is in this plane. Now raise your right arm to just below shoulder level, staying aware of the center of weight in this back body plane. Feel how weightless and effortless your arm motions are when your weight is centered in this plane. You may need to work on getting rid of bad habits, like raising your shoulder when you raise your arm. Or tensing your back. No matter what your bad habits, doing this exercise - divorced from the expectations of what's needed to bow, will hopefully provide you with at least a glimpse of how effortless playing can be. When I first tried it, glimpses were truly all I got. The same exercise can be used to demonstrate how easy it is to hold the left arm out in front of you. Try this exercise frequently, thinking of - not relaxation so much as effortlessness and freedom - leave it when your body decides that tension is required, and then come back to it again. You should be able to stay relaxed longer and longer, and have an easier and easier time of staying relaxed as you bow.

American Scandinavian Music Sites:

The Northern California Spelmanslag:

Nordahl Grieg Leikarring & Spelemannslag:

The American Nyckelharpa Association:

Bruce Sagan’s Scandinavian Web Site:

The Hardangar Fiddle Association of America:

The Skandia Folkdance Society (Seattle):

About the Calendar

A (somewhat) more detailed and up-to-date calendar can be found on the NCS Webpage at
Web and Newsletter calendar submissions should be sent to Jim Little at 321 McKendry, Menlo Park, CA, 94025, email:, phone: (650) 323-2256 or Sarah Kirton at 330 Sierra Vista Ave. #1, Mt. View, CA, 94043, email:, phone: (650) 968-3126. Suggestions for what to include in a calendar submission are on our web page. The web page calendar is updated as material is received. §