Scandia Festival 2000  -  coming in February
by Fred Bialy

The upcoming annual Scandia Festival weekend workshop will take place February 1920, 2000, at Hermann Sons Hall in Petaluma, CA.  The focus of the dance teaching will be Valdres springar, taught by Marit and Terje Lundemoen from Valdres in Norway.  Accompanying them will be a hardingfele player from their home district who is yet to be determined.  Swedish fiddle greats Kalle Almlöf and Jonny Soling will be on hand to teach fiddling during the day and play for dancing Saturday and Sunday evenings.

Marit and Terje Lundemoen began teaching at a young age in Valdres and have demonstrated their ability with a first place finish at the 1981 Landskappleik, an annual national competition for folk music and dancing.  They won second place at the 1993 Landskappleik.  This will be their second visit to California, having previously taught at Scandia Camp in 1991 together with their teachers, Knut and Berit Steinsrud.

Kalle Almlöf, born in Malung (Western Dalarna) in 1947, has been playing fiddle since he was a small boy.  His early training was from local fiddlers.  He subsequently attended the university in Stockholm where he attended the first course designed for folk musicians.  Over the years he has delved deeper into the music traditions of western Dalarna through study visits to older fiddlers and by researching various tune collections from the region. His playing style has served as an inspiration for many fiddlers.  Since 1978, he has been teaching a one semester course in folk fiddling at the folkhögskola in Malung.  Kalle has also studied violin making and is a skilled instrument builder and repairer.

Jonny Soling, born in the Dalarna town of Orsa in 1946, did not start playing fiddle until he was 25.  He learned rapidly and received recognition as a riksspelman after only two years.  His music education at the universities in Stockholm and Gothenburg provided the foundation for what has become a highly influential career as a teacher of fiddle playing and folk music.  In 1979 he started teaching a two semester course in folk fiddling at the folkhögskola in Malung.  In addition, he continues to teach numerous weekend and week long summer workshops for both adults and children.  This trip will be his sixth tour to the United States.  During a visit to Minneapolis in 1988, he was a guest on the radio show “A Prairie Home Companion.”  This will be Kalle and Jonny’s third appearance at Scandia Festival, having been featured fiddle teachers in 1991 and 1994.  Jonny was also here with Pål Olle Dyrsmeds in January of 1983, and the two were at Scandia Festival in February of 1984.

Cost of the full weekend for both dancers and musicians will be $80, which includes classes on Saturday and Sunday and dance parties on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday evenings.  Preregistration is required for the dance workshops. Dancers of all levels are welcome, although prior knowledge of Valdresspringar is  recommended.  A good balance between the number of men and women dancers will be attempted.  During teaching, dance partners are changed frequently.
The number of dancers participating is limited due to space considerations, so early registration is encouraged.  Men are especially encouraged to register early, because the number of women dancers admitted is usually determined by the number of men attending.  Evening dance parties are open also to those not registered for the daytime workshops. Fiddle instruction will be at an intermediate and advanced level in two simultaneous groups.  Beginners may attend at a reduced price.  Preregistration for fiddle workshops is requested.  Part time attendance at the fiddle workshops is possible (paying on a session by session basis).

For registration information for dance workshops, contact Mary Korn at (510) 5279209.  For fiddle workshops, contact Fred Bialy at (510) 215-5974.  §

It’s That Time of Year Again…

Yes, it’s that time of year again, when thoughts turn to gifts and taxes.  And memberships in various organizations. Please take the time to look over the questionaire in our inside back cover to make sure your address information is up to date.  While you’re at it, think about what you’d like to see the organization do for you, and what you might do for us.  Sometimes it takes awhile to organize events, but your suggestions are all considered, and often acted upon. Also, take a look at the article concerning event organization on page 4.

And last but not least - don’t forget to donate.  We still have not reached our goal of paying for the newsletter by donations;  we’d like to keep it free to all who’d like to receive one.    §

The Kalevala's 150th Anniversary

This year, 1999, is the 150th anniversary of the publication of the Finnish epic poem, the Kalevala, in its final expanded form.  The early years of the nineteenth century brought an awakening of national feeling to Finland, and young students began to collect the old poems, songs, and stories of the common people.  One of them, Elias Lönnrot, put these together to make a dynamic whole, first published in 1835.  In 1849 he published an expanded version, which is the version most often used and translated today.  It is this anniversary which has been celebrated this past year.  Anja Miller, a Finn living in the San Francisco area, has written a brief article (see pg. 2) about the Kalevala and its importance to the Finnish people.  If you are interested, contact her at the address at the end of her article.

What is the Kalevala?
by Anja Miller

Most people who appreciate Scandinavian culture know about the Icelandic Edda, the stories of Norse heroes like Odin and Thor.  Often these characters have their counterparts in Greco-Roman culture (Zeus/Jupiter, Ares/Mars).  They are central in pre-Christian epics, collections of stories, verbalized sets of myths and beliefs shared by people with the same kind of culture.  The characters (divinities) in the stories always possess a mixture of human and superhuman qualities.  They are archetypes, as the psychologist Jung would call them.

The archetypes of the Finns reside in a different environment, in their own folk poetry.  Originally oral songs and stories, Kalevala poetry is said to have developed among the protoFinns living around the Gulf of Finland about 3000 years ago.  The best known epic collection of these songs is called the Kalevala, first published in 1835 by a traveling country doctor named Elias Lönnrot.  In addition to the stories in his Kalevala, however, a wealth of other folk poetry exists, including lyrical and ritualistic songs and spells.  These were naturally frowned upon by Christian authorities.  Under the weight of the political rule, first of Sweden for 700 years, and then of Russia for 100 years, this rich folklore of the Finns, along with their language, was suppressed.  The publication of the Kalevala was a milestone, an impetus for a national awakening still being felt today.

This poetic song tradition uses an archaic trochaic tetrameter, an unusual poetic rhythm familiar to Americans from Longfellow’s poem, “Hiawatha.”

The uniqueness of the content and language of Kalevala poetry lies above all in its very close connection with  nature.  We Finns often say that we are “the last people to come down from the trees,” and we advise our children to “listen to the tree that you live under.”
Kamanat kohottukohot Pihtipielet välttyköhöt,
lakin päästä ottamatta. ovet ilman auetkohot
Kynnykset alentukohot  vieraan tullessa tupahan,
kengän kannan koskematta.   astuessa aimo miehen.

The other difference that sets apart the Kalevala is its definition of heroism.

The power of Väinämöinen, the ageless hero (not god), lies in his wisdom and song—words, not violence and war. When he sang and played his kantele, which he first made of the jawbone of a giant pike and the hair of a maiden, all the creatures of the forest and all the people came to hear him, and he made them weep with emotion.  He also lusted after young girls but lost them all.

Other main characters in the Kalevala epic include the blacksmith Ilmarinen, the archetype of a skilled workman. He forged himself a golden bride (whom he found too cold in bed!) and showed himself a true master by forging the Sampo, a magic mill, the source of all the wealth of any nation that possessed it.  Alas, the Sampo was lost in the sea in a battle with Louhi, the powerful and wily female ruler of Pohjola (the North).  Then there’s the young daredevil Lemminkäinen, favorite of the girls, whose mother brings him back from death in one of the most moving scenes of the epic.

Why is the Kalevala so important to the Finns even today? It is the most enduring symbol of the creative spirit and closeness to nature of all Finns, a national treasure that resonates in all the basic aspects of ethnic identity, shared values, and belonging.  In school we are not only taught the rich, albeit currently archaic, language of the poems, but also encouraged to carry on the tradition by writing our own whenever the occasion seems to call for it.  (The last time I remember doing that was when one of my favorite dance teachers had a mysterious back ailment.  He may say the antibiotics cured him, but I believe my spell played its part as well!)

Among the world’s epics the Kalevala is recognized as possessing universal significance regardless of language, race, or cultural features.  Translations of Lönnrot’s collection run into the hundreds, including three versions in English. The best one, in my opinion, was done by Finnish-American Eino Friberg not too long ago.  A wonderful illustrated short version for children is The Magic Storysinger by M.E.A.  McNeil of Mill Valley.

Another tangible influence of the Kalevala can be seen in Finnish art, particularly the paintings, murals, and book illustrations by Akseli Gallen-Kallela.  On your next visit to Helsinki, I recommend a visit to the Atheneum (Finnish national gallery) and the National Museum for his frescoes of Kalevala.  And in music, not only fiddler polkka tunes hark back to Kalevala, but so do classic works by Sibelius (The Karelia Suite), Kuula, and many other composers.  Enough about Kalevala? If you want to know more, feel free to contact me  at            §

Scandia Camp Mendocino

Scandia Camp Mendocino in northern California will feature the music and dance of Småland, Sweden and Gudbrandsdal, Norway from June 9 - 16, 2000.  Magnus Gustafsson, Ulrika Gunnarsson, Toste Länne, Anders Svensson, and Marie Länne-Persson return to the US to teach Slängpolska from Småland, and fiddler Ivar Odnes from Gudbrandsdal along with American dancers Nobi Kuroturi and Roo Lester will teach Springleik from Vågå in Gudbrandsdal.

The music staff will include Fred Bialy, Music Director, Loretta Kelley teaching Telemark hardingfele tradition, Bruce Sagan teaching Nyckelharpa, Peter  Michaelsen leading allspell and Sarah Kirton reviewing tunes and teaching Valdres hardingfele tradition.

For more information and to get on the mailing list, write to: Scandia Camp Mendocino, 393 Gravatt Drive, Berkeley, CA 94705, or Roo Lester  ( or (630) 920-0159 [Central time zone].  Information is also posted on Roo's web page,  Be sure to register early.  The size of the dance space and number of cabins limit the number of campers.  An attempt is made to balance the number of men, women and
couples in the dance program.  All applications received before January 10th, 2000, will be treated equally.   §

Newsletter possibilities

Do you have an idea for the newsletter?  Would you like to write an article for it?  Review recent recordings? Announce an event?  Your help would be much appreciated.  We would like to limit articles to those of interest to our readership - that is, they should be about Scandinavian music, dance, or folk culture either in the United States or in Scandinavia.  Articles on modern Scandinavian culture may also be usable.  Contact our editor at (650) 968-3126 or email her at   §

Resignation of board member

Patrick Golden, a founding member of NCS and its long-time treasurer, has resigned.  He is looking forward to having more time for his family and his other projects.

Patrick is not only a founding member, but it was he and his wife, Susan Overhauser, who first instigated the formation of NCS in 1988.  They’ve guided it through attaining incorporation and non-profit status, and were a vital driving force behind the projects of our first years as an organization.  Patrick has given freely of his energy, drive, ideas, and expertise, all of which will be sorely missed.  He stays on in an advisory role to the treasurer, as needed. Jim Little has taken over the treasurer's post.  §

Have an event idea?
                            You can make it happen!

NCS could sponsor more special events with your help.  All we need is good ideas, and people willing to be the “driver” and make it happen.  We have (or can find) people who will help.  We even have funds to help cover expenses if necessary.  If you have an idea for a workshop, dance, concert, etc.,  let’s work together.

If you have an idea, are able and willing to organize it but need help, ask an NCS Board member to help you put together a short proposal explaining your idea and what help you need from NCS.  Help from NCS could include any or all of the following: money, people to do things, people to provide ideas and feedback (like locations and scheduling), and insurance.  The proposal does not have to be elaborate;  just a short description of what you’re thinking of doing and what you’d need from NCS to make it happen.  There’s a proposal template and more detailed guidelines on the NCS website at  There are also folks around who can help you estimate costs and preparation-time requirements.

If you have an idea, but for whatever reason can’t organize it yourself, we may still be able to help.  Just talk to any NCS Board member.  (see About NCS for phone numbers and e-mail adresses)   We’ll try to find someone else to take the lead.

So, don’t let your good ideas remain simply ideas.  Let’s turn them into more of the events we all love to attend.  §

Fiddle Tips - Holding the fiddle
    by Sarah Kirton

In the last issue I gave some tips for holding the bow and bowing - this issue it's time to examine holding the fiddle itself.  (I'm assuming you know the basics, so you don't end up holding it upside down, or whatever!)  Holding the fiddle  need not cause many aches and pains once the muscles are used to what they should do.  Like holding the bow, holding the fiddle is an exercise in balance.  Let's see what one needs to do.

Without the fiddle, stand straight and hold your arms straight out from your sides.  This creates a plane (remember geometry class) that I'll call the body plane.  Put your arms back down and pretend there's a string attached to the top of your sternum which is drawing you up.  Let your weight rest a bit more on your heels than on your toes.  Now put your left arm in front of you in fiddle playing position.  Your left shoulder probably moved a bit forward when you put your arm in front of you.  If it didn't, let it move forward to a comfortable position.  We want to stand straight, but we're not in military training.  Notice that when you're standing tall with your weight a bit back, your arm isn't as heavy as if you slouch.  You're using your back and your weight to form a counter-balance to your arm, easing the
problem of holding it out there for hours on end.

To continue - arm stretched out in front of you,  palm facing up and towards you.  The inside of your elbow is also facing up and the elbow is bent.  Your wrist is straight.   Let your elbow hang straight down, regardless of what you've been told about where it should be.  When your hand is relaxed, your fingers curl a bit, and a connect-the-dot line drawn between their tips probably forms an almost straight line pointing back at your body.  Your thumb is probably straight and parallel to the plane of your hand.  There are two schools of thought about the elbow position. My classical teachers said it should be pointing a bit to the right, more or less under the right edge of the fiddle.  This has always been uncomfortable to the point of impossible for me.  I have to admit to ignoring my teachers on this
point (!), and it was a great relief to find another school of thought (also classical) that says to let it hang pointing straight down at the floor in a natural, relaxed position.  It seems to me that there is no reason to inject the extra tension needed to pull the elbow toward the right.  The hand and fingers can still curl sufficiently over the fingerboard to play well.

The angle of the fiddle to the body plane  is another point to cover.   See figure 1.   Comfortable angles usually range from just a little greater than 90° (a bit left of center), to somewhere around 120° (farther left).  This may require a compromise between what's comfortable for you,  how long your arms are, and how easy it is to use your entire bow.  Short armed people can use more bow if their fiddle is closer to that 90° angle.   Long armed people find that as they hold their fiddle closer 90°, it's all too easy to run the bow tip off the strings on down bows.  They'll probably want to cultivate a larger angle to avoid this.

Let's try this with the fiddle, and refine some things.  With the fiddle neck in your left hand, place the other end of the fiddle (the part with the chinrest on it!!) against the left front side of your neck, under your jaw.  (Whether you place it at the “bottom end” of your neck, or higher, closer to the jaw will vary from person to person.  Continue reading, then experiment to find a good fit for you.)  Don't lower your chin just yet.  Balance the fiddle neck with your left hand (don't grip it, just let it rest there), and let the other end balance (!!) on your collarbone.  Keep your shoulders relaxed, and let the left shoulder come only as far forward as necessary for you to extend your arm.  Wiggle the fiddle around to find a place where it balances well.  I've never yet seen anyone who doesn't have such a place.  The angle the fiddle sticks out from your body plays a role in this balance, so be sure to try different angles.  You may need to shift which part of the rounded, body end of the fiddle is against your neck.  This can range from the section where the chinrest is normally attached, to the center of the fiddle, where the tailpiece is attached.  The fiddle body should be parallel to the floor or tilted just slightly to your right.  How much depends on what's comfortable for you. Once you've found a balancing spot, move on to the next step - getting the proper left hand hold on the fiddle neck.

Put your fiddle down a minute.  Rub the side of your left index finger and hand (the side towards the thumb).  You should feel a bump (which you may or may not see) formed by the base knuckle.  Remember where this is.

Balancing the fiddle at your own personal balancing spot, hold the neck between the upper part of thumb (last joint or higher) and just above your newly found lump.  Keep your wrist straight.  Sometimes people squeeze the neck between thumb and first finger.  Don't.  Just let your fiddle rest above (and on!) that lump.  Your thumb rests against the other side of the fiddle neck for two reasons.  First, to give just enough pressure that your fiddle doesn't slip
below the "lump" of your first finger base knuckle, and two, to act as an anchor point.  (We'll talk about this next time.)  Your thumb should be close to straight up and down.  It can point a bit toward the scroll of the violin, but don't let it get much off vertical.  Don't let it slide up and down on the neck.  And remember - fiddle necks are NOT to be strangled!  Ever.

You've been thinking that balancing this expensive (or not) instrument on an almost unseen lump on the edge of your first finger and on your (probably) lumpy collarbone is fine as long as you don't breathe, but what about real life? Well, you've got a point.  Here's where classical violinists and fiddlers come to a parting of the ways. If you play classical violin, you need to shift your hand up and down the neck, and the method used by many folk fiddlers to hold their instruments will not work for you, especially while shifting down.  But it's more relaxed for the neck and shoulder, (especially if you've acquired the bad habit of tensing up)  and using the folk  method could give you much needed relaxation during passages using only first position.  Folk fiddlers will find that knowing the classical hold can be indispensable when you need to shift, when you must play in crowds, or any other time you need a bit more security.  The trick with both methods is to stay relaxed.

There are many opinions as to what is the "only right way" to hold a violin, and one can become completely confused. Give any new way you run across a fair trial, and incorporate anything that's useful for you.  Learning to hold a violin is a lifelong process.  Your method will change as your playing improves and your body ages or becomes more coordinated, and, one hopes, more relaxed about the whole thing.

So - a brief outline of both methods.   Hold the fiddle as above, holding it just tightly enough between the thumb and forefinger to press it slightly into your neck.  That's all that's required for the fiddler's method.  The friction of (naturally) slightly damp skin at your neck will also help to keep the fiddle from sliding around.  Rest your chin in the chinrest, but read further about this, too.  This adds more stability to your hold.  Don’t squeeze the neck with your left hand - it doesn't take much to shove the fiddle a bit toward your neck.  Not squeezing is one of the important things to learn.  If your finger skin is not overly wet or dry, it could be that just balancing the fiddle neck will give you all the extra friction needed between skin and fiddle to press it ever so slightly into your neck.  The violinist
needs to do a bit extra.  S/he not only rests the chin on the chinrest, but also adds a little extra pressure with the jaw.  I find it best to get the jaw over the raised edge of the chinrest and then pull the jaw back toward the neck a little.  The fiddle is caught by the geometry of the jawbone, the neck, and the shape of the chinrest, and one needn't exert much extra pressure to hold the fiddle.  Instead, the fiddle is wedged into place by geometry and balance.  The violinist should be able to hold the fiddle up with the neck and jaw alone.  (Look Ma!  No hands!!)  This takes more than a bit of practice.  At first the fiddle will slowly slide toward the center until you decide you'd better catch it before it clatters to the floor.  The natural thing is to go all tense when trying this.  Don't.  Since your left shoulder is slightly forward, it will also help support the violin.  Resist the temptation to move it forward much more, to hunch up, or curl it forward.  Get into these habits, and you'll pay with unnecessary pain.  You'll need to develop some neck muscles to keep the fiddle wedged into place, but try to keep things as relaxed as possible as you learn how to hang onto the fiddle with your jawbone.  Once you've developed the right muscles, they won't need to tense up.  Resist the temptation to clench your jaw.   In all honesty, it can take a year or more to learn to do this.

Now for the choice of chinrests and shoulder pads.  The only words of wisdom I have about chinrests are to go to a store and try some out.  Some people like a chinrest that fits over the tailpiece instead of off to one side.  This can also let short-armed folks use the entire bow, instead of losing out on the use of the last few inches near the bow tip. Some are thicker, some have higher, lower, or variously shaped “lips” at the edge.  Choose carefully.  It may save your needing a shoulder pad, which are a hassle to use and keep track of.

Shoulder pads (a.k.a. shoulder rests) can be a huge problem.  I myself don't use them.  The fastest way for me to literally drop my fiddle while I'm trying to play is to try one out.  But many people can't seem to balance their fiddle well enough in real life (instead of the balancing exercise above) to play without one.  I also think that if you can be comfortable without one, it would be nice not to use one.  Although I suspect most people need one, I also suspect people just assume they (or their students) need one, and never give the no-fuss alternative a chance. If you decide you need one, try a variety of your friends' shoulder pads.  Then go to a store with a wide variety and which does a lot of business with string players.  A trip into the nearest city can be well worth it in avoided frustration.  Some salespeople are very experienced at helping choose a shoulder pad that's right for you.  Get the salesperson to show you how to adjust them.  Combine this with a search for the ideal chinrest.  Be aware that the "right" shoulder pad (or chinrest) for you may change as you become more experienced and as you grow older.  (I'm
not just talking about the teenager to adult transition here, but also about such changes as entering a more relaxed or more stressed few years.)

People often say shoulder pads help avoid the “need” to hunch the shoulder to help support the fiddle.  That's something you should never do anyway - the fiddle rests against the neck and on the collarbone, with minimal help from the shoulder,  or it's caught up in the geometry of neck, jaw and collarbone.  The shoulder pad can make the fiddle effectively thicker, so that catching it under your jaw while it simultaneously rests against the neck and collar bone may be easier.  Some people report that while they can hold the fiddle up without a shoulder pad, it's enough easier with it that they prefer to use one.  Most people are probably better off with one, but if you're one of the exceptions, it's worth finding out.

And now I'll throw in something odd.  When I was a child and teenager, I was very skinny, and was thought to have a long neck.  One of my teachers, concertmaster of a well respected symphony orchestra, told me I was lucky to have a long neck, since it meant I didn't need a shoulder pad.  Now that I'm older and not exactly skinny, my neck seems to be short,  I'm told that's why I don't need a shoulder pad.  Go figure.  Just give both ways a fair trial if you're a beginner,
or are currently dissatisfied.

A lot of folk fiddlers "break" their wrists when they play.  That is, they bend their wrist back so that the palm touches and supports the neck of the fiddle. Hardingfele players do a variation on this, which we won’t discuss here. They have reason to do it, you don’t.   I suspect it can also lead to various repetitive motion injuries.  Resist this temptation, if for no other reason than that it restricts finger motion.  Your left forearm, wrist, and hand should make a straight line when seen from the side (look in a mirror).  We'll talk more about this next time.

And now another practical point.  It's difficult to hold the fiddle and play well if your hands and/or neck are too dry (winter weather can do this) or too wet (dancing in hot weather or excessive nervousness do it to me).  The tiny amount of "damp skin friction" (for lack of a better term)  needed to hold the fiddle easily just isn't there.  If your hands are too wet, you slide all over the fingerboard, resulting in out of tune playing, and you constantly feel that you're about to drop the fiddle.  As a result you tense your hand, neck and shoulder, resulting in muscle cramps and frustration, which of course makes matters even worse.  If too dry, the problem isn’t as bad, but your hand (or at least my hand) slowly creeps up the neck, again with out of tune results, and squeezing to try to stay in place. There's also the odd problem of hands that are just damp enough to be a bit sticky, and you can't slip along the fingerboard when you need to.  I've found that applying (don't laugh) cream antiperspirant in very, very tiny quantities helps the with wetness and sweat-caused* stickiness, and hand lotion helps with dryness.  Apply it long
enough before playing not to get goo on your fiddle.  And beware - it takes much less antiperspirant than you might think.   This discovery has made my playing life a lot easier - at least when I remember to apply the proper cream in time.

Well - I've run out of room here.  I'd thought to say something about proper fingering technique, but that will have to wait till another time.

Comments and questions are more than welcome.

* Need I say that stickiness caused by contact with refreshments or your dancing partner requires good old-fashioned hand-washing!!   ; )

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   http://members

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.  §