As a member of Dalarna's Spelmansförbund I receive two publications from Sweden about folk music: Dalarnas Spelmansblad which reports on events and news in Dalarna, and Spelmannen, published by Sveriges Spelmäns Riksförbund, which contains information of general interest to musicians throughout Sweden. With this issue I am starting a hopefully regular column in which I summarize articles and news items in these publications that I think may be of interest to the readers of the NCS News. In future issues I plan to also include items of interest from Spelemannsbladet put out by the Landslaget for Spelemenn in Norway. (FB)
Each year, one of the many spelmanstämmor throughout Sweden is picked as the site of the annual Zornmärkesuppspelningar where musicians play or sing before a jury. This particular stämma is therefore designated the Riksspelmansstämma for the year (similar to the Landskappleiken in Norway). A musicians' performance is rated for rhythm, intonation, quality of playing and the degree to which it stays true to the traditions of the musician's home area. Bronze and silver medals are awarded. Those receiving the silver medal are also honored with the title of riksspelman. If a musician's performance is considered noteworthy, but not good enough to be given a medal, they are awarded instead a diplom. Each year one musician is awarded a gold medal to honor many years of achievement and extraordinary musicianship. In 1996, the Riksspelmanstämma took place June 15-16, in Gesunda, Dalarna, on the same site as the very first fiddler's competition in 1906. At that first competition, the musicians (only fiddlers and cow horn players were allowed) competed against each other and the winner was Timas Hans from Ore. This past year 69 musicians participated in a greater variety of categories: fiddle, sheep horn, spilåpipa, durspel (accordion), harmonica, and kulning. Eight received the silver medal, five the silver-diplom, ten the bronze, and five the bronze-diplom. Elizabeth Weis from Minneapolis, who lived for a year in Uppsala while she did research for her doctorate in ethnomusicology, was awarded a bronze-diplom for her commendable nyckelharpa playing. The gold medal this year was awarded to Kalle Almlöf from Malung.
An editorial in Spelmannen questions why the musicians play for the jury in private, suggesting that there would be greater PR value in having these sessions open to the public (the bi-annual nyckelharpa competitions are in front of an audience). The same editorial raises a more basic controversy: the meaning and value of the Zornmärkesuppspelningar itself. Does the medal mean you are a better musician? Is the whole event good PR for folk music?
Kalle Almlöf is working on a new recording of tunes by Lejsme-Per, a legendary fiddler who lived near Malung in a border region between Western Dalarna and Värmland. Lesjme-Per was renown for a unique style and rich clean tone. He used up to seven different tunings when playing (Kalle only uses three on the recording). Kalle recorded 43 different tunes, each one four times. Now he plans to pick the best version of each tune and choose 25 to be included on the CD.
A symposium for song in Scandinavia is being planned for the Fall of 1997 in Falun. Activities will include seminars, concerts, workshops, dances and visstugor (singing gatherings open to general participation). The organizers hope to improve contacts between people interested in singing, develop teaching methods, discuss current research and generally increase interest in and awareness of singing as a musical form. A similar symposium took place in Växjö in 1993.
The bi-annual nyckelharpa competition took place in Österbybruk this past summer. The winner in the kromatisk (chromatic) nyckelharpa category was Niklas Rosvall from Skåne. Part of the prize is an invitation to make a recording in the coming year which Niklas plans to do. The winner of the gammelharpa (old-style nyckelharpa) was Lena Jörpeland from Solentuna, who also won this category in 1994. Previous winners in the chromatic category have been: Olov Johansson (1990), Peter Puma Hedlund (1992), and Anders Mattsson (1994). In the old-style category: Olov Johansson (1990) and Hasse Gille (1992).
A letter from Leif Johansson from Södermanland addresses the growing tendency for folk musicians these days to be focussed on playing music for concerts rather than for dancing. The result is that, although the music is technically superb, its boring to dance to. He thinks that folk music is losing some of its traditional functions, such as music for ceremonies or dancing. He has several explanations for this phenomenon. The need to produce recordings that stand out has led to highly arranged music which is difficult to dance to. Festivals tend to emphasize concerts over dancing. Music education programs seldom include playing for dancing in their curriculums. He suggests that there should even be new category of medals to recognize good dance musicians. His letter evoked responses from two readers. One, Isabelle Tejbo, related her experience arranging an event that equally emphasised musicians and dancers to which 30 musicians came, but only 4 dancers. Stig Norrman wrote to support those musicians who aren't interested at all in playing for dancing but rather see music as a creative process and a means of personal expression. Stig thinks that folk music has traditionally served many practical functions, but there has always been an interest among musicians in the music itself. Don't musicians get together to play and exchange experiences and ideas without a single dancer being present? Isn't music often played just to listen to? Perhaps in earlier days of rural life people were just too busy to do this. He sees folk music (any music) as having an aesthetic value. Its most important function is simply the musical experience it creates. It helps that the music is danceable if that is what you want to do, but it need not be that way all the time.
Renowned Bingsjö fiddler Päkkos Gustaf, who turned 80 in March of 1996, was awarded Sweden's Illis Quorum medal during last summer's Bingsjöstämma in recognition of his many years of cultural service as bearer of the musical traditions of Bingsjö. This medal, more commonly awarded to opera singers, has been given to only two other folk musicians: Hjort Anders (1947) and Knis Karl Aronsson (1973). Gustaf was honored also with a special concert at which many of the top fiddlers in Dalarna came to play for and with him. A special prize of 10,000 Skr. was also established in his name to be awarded each year to a deserving young musician. Gustaf has been a farmer (he still has two cows) and craftsman all his life. He traces his ancestry back to Finns who immigrated to Bingsjö in the 1650s. He began to play fiddle at the age of twelve and had no formal instruction. As a youngster he listened a lot to great local fiddlers such as Päckos Olle and the Nyland brothers Erik and Jonas. He learned a few tunes from his father who became an organist after a hand injury prevented him from playing fiddle. Gustaf says he was also inspired by Hjort Anders and Karl Sporr. Gustaf first heard Hjort Anders on the radio at the age of fourteen, an event he still clearly remembers today. His only meeting with the legendary fiddler came in November 1950, during a concert in Stockholm. After Gustaf made his way through the crowd and introduced himself, Hjorth Anders borrowed his fiddle and played Pekkos Per's Rullpolska, one of Gustaf's favorites. During the summer of 1950, Gustaf played Rullpolska and Gråtlåten to earn his silver medal at the Zornmärkesuppspelningar that took place in Tällberg that year. He was awarded the gold medal in 1973. Gustaf still lives where he was born, on Pekkosgården, which is also where the Bingsjöstämma has taken place since 1969. In the early 80s as many as 30,000 people were attending this annual event. The crowds would get so thick around his house, Gustaf remembers, that it once took him 20 minutes to cover the several meters from his underground storage shed to the back door. When asked by a reporter from a local newspaper what he thought about the stämma, Gustaf said "No, write about the fact that nobody knows how to make a scythe nowadays".
Swedish fiddlers Carina Normansson and Ola Bäckström have formed a band together with two Irish musicians, accordionist Karen Tweed and guitarist Ian Carr. Called Svåp, the band's repertoire of new compositions mixed with traditional Irish and Swedish material reflects the exchange of musical ideas and styles that has occurred among its members since they met several years ago. Svåp has toured in England, Sweden, Denmark and Germany. They plan to release a CD recording in 1997.
Singer Eva Rune, who enchanted listeners during her visit to the Bay Area in summer of 1996, was awarded the Tällberg Foundation scholarship this past July. Among previous winners have been Tommy Runesson and Anders Bjernulf. The prize provides funds for a trip to the United States in order to teach and perform. Presently, Eva is making plans to travel here in September or October of 1997. She hopes to include Seattle, San Francisco, Boulder, and Minneapolis in her tour.
The recently released recording of Pers Hans and Björn Ståbi (GIGA GCD-25, 1995) brings back together two of Sweden's greatest living fiddlers, 25 years after their acclaimed live concert recording "Bockfot!!!" helped broaden awareness of traditional folk music in Sweden. In an interview in the summer issue of Dalarnas Spelmansblad, Björn and Pers reminisced about their long collaboration and their own individual development as traditional "old-style" fiddlers. Although born and raised in Stockholm, Björn started as a fiddler with tunes from Orsa that he learned from his father Erik Ståbi. Already as a twelve year old, he was able to catch the attention of the ten year old Pers Hans as he listened to Björn play on the radio in the early 50s. What Pers remembers most was that Björn played like many of the older fiddlers in the Rättvik area that he had been visiting with his father Pers Erik. During his teenage years, Björn also had weekly lessons with Hans Börtas from Rättvik with whom he concentrated on playing harmonies. Pers was learning mainly from his father who was intent on having Pers continue the fiddling traditions of his family and their home village. Björn and Pers met for the first time in 1963 at the spelmansstämma in Tällberg. Björn challenged Pers to play whatever he wanted, feeling sure that he would figure out a harmony. Nevertheless, he is glad that the first tune was a simple one. They played together a lot that summer and then more frequently the year round once Hans moved to Stockholm to be a painter. Their collaboration on Bockfot!!! may not have happened if Pers hadn't injured his shoulder such that he could no longer ply his trade. Still being able to fiddle, Pers was now free to join in on a tour "Visor och Bockfot" for which Björn was to be the only fiddler. The success of that tour led to the live recording "Bockfot!!!" In the '70s they continued to tour a lot. Some highlights included playing for the first ever stereo broadcast on radio (in which they stood so far apart from each other, they ended up playing different parts at the same time on one number), meeting Judy Collins, and collaborating with Benny Anderson and Björn Ulvaeus, who were in the process of forming ABBA. They participated in the first fiddlers course in 1973 and made several more recordings together: "Tre Spelmän" (together with Kalle Almlöf) and twelve selections for the project "Låtar till svenska bygdedanser." In the '80s they drifted their separate ways, making their own solo recordings and did not perform together again until an appearance at Rättvik Folklore Festival in 1990. A second joint concert at the Falun Folkmusic Festival in 1992 led to planning for their most recent recording.
Olle and Mats Wallman, Kalle Strandell, and Britt-Marie Westholm toured to Japan to give a polska course last spring. Stops included Osaka, Tokyo, the island Shiloku, Hamamatsu, Nagaokakyo, and Yokkaichi. They discovered a great interest in Swedish music, dance, and traditions among the Japanese participants. Many of them had either bought authentic Swedish folk costumes or had made their own.
Fiddler Paul Dahlin from Minneapolis travelled to Washington DC this past October to receive a National Heritage Award in honor of his contributions to folk traditions in the United States. His grandfather Edwin Johnson (originally Ivares Edvind Jonsson) immigrated to the United States earlier this century from the Rättvik village of Vikarbyn. Edwin, Paul, and Paul's uncle Bruce Johnson, all fiddlers, played together as a trio for many years. Edwin had been nominated to receive this same award shortly before his death.
Ingvar Norman, who spent his entire adult life researching and documenting the music and dance heritage of southern Dalarna and many other parts of Sweden, died at the age of 82 in May of this past year. Ingvar was born in 1914 in Nordåker, near Säter, in southern Dalarna. He was born into a musical family. His father and maternal grandfather played fiddle. His mother and maternal grandmother sang. He started playing fiddle himself in 1923. By 1928 he was playing for the folk dance group in Säter. Within a few years he had also learned to dance and soon was both the dance and music leader of the Säter dance group. During the 1930's, 40's, and 50's, Ingvar was active in the music section of Dalarnes Hembygdsring. In 1947, together with Johan Larsson from Hedemora, he began to document the regional dances and their music in Dalarna and southern Sweden, eventually collecting about 80 dances. These dances, along with those collected by the Karlholms in Jämtland, became the dance repertoire that was used during the polska medal testing that Ingvar helped establish in the late 1960's. Ingvar was inspired by the Zorn medals awarded to musicians as well as the kappleik tradition in Norway. Between 1969 and 1983, Ingvar served as a judge for the event. Ingvar's greatest musical interest was for the traditions in the mining region of southern Dalarna (Dalabergslagen). During most of his life he visited older fiddlers in the region and documented their repertoires. He eventually published almost 2400 of these tunes in the book Låtar från Dalarnas Bergslagen. In 1969 he started to teach in workshops and regular fiddle classes. In 1976 he helped form Södra Dalarnes Spelmanslag. Over the years Ingvar functioned as a defacto ambassador for folk music and dance in the public media. In 1933, he played for the first time for a radio broadcast and subsequently participated in many radio and television programs and interviews about folk music and dance, including an early 1970's television program about Swedish village dancing called Skansensväng. He was also interested in the dialects from southern Dalarna and collected several thousand words and expressions. Awards and recognition bestowed upon Ingvar are numerous. He received all three Zorn medals (bronze: 1933, silver: 1935, gold: 1956), as well as the polska dance gold medal (1969). Other honors were the Gås-Anders plaque (1960) and the Svenska Ungdomsringen's gold medal (1996).
Karl Åhs, a fiddler probably more familiar to the Bay Area since his visit here in 1989, also died in 1996. Originally from Blyberg in Älvdalen, Karl ultimately settled in Avesta but usually spent the summer months after his retirement on the northern end of Öland where his wife Gertrud was born. Karl was the son of Lars Åhs and the brother of Evert Åhs, two more widely known fiddlers in the Älvdalen tradition. One of Öland's fiddlers, Torsten Nordander, currently living in Göteborg, spent many years recording and transcribing Karl's repertoire of old Älvdalen tunes and original compositions. He plans to turn this material over to Dalarnas Museum in Falun. Karl's family is interested in getting copies of other recordings of Karl playing. If you have any, please contact them c/o Lars-Peter Åhs, Birger Carlssons Vägen 5, 774 61 Avesta, Sweden.
A new book about Swedish folk music, Folkmusik i Sverige (Gidlunds förlag) has just been published. Written by Dan Lundberg and Gunnar Ternhag, the book offers information on many topics including music of the fäbod, singing, spelmansmusik, music of the Saami, music in a multi-cultural society, and developments in music during the recent decades.
A new exhibit of Norwegian decorative arts will open in Seattle at the Nordic Heritage Museum on February 28. The exhibit offers a comprehensive overview of the folk art of Norway from the 16th to the 19th centuries. It also examines the role that this folk art had in the culture of immigrants from Norway to America as an expression of ethnic pride and identity. The 210 pieces of art highlight two significant decorative themes: the organic and the geometric. For more information about this exhibit, call (206) 789-5707.
The members of Susannes Septet all met at the Stockholm Royal college of Music where Susanne, Sven, and Mikael are teachers. They are known to have a lot of fun when they perform together. They will be appearing at the FolkmusicFest in Umeå in February and the FolkmusicFest in Ockelbo, Gästrikland, in May. The CD will likely be available through Norsk Ltd., 770 Linden Ave., Boulder, Colorado, 80304.