Singer Jon Anders Halvorsen and guitar player Tore Bruvoll are the young stalwarts of traditional song in Norway's Telemark county. Jon Anders has been awarded the best traditional vocal performer in 2002; Tore's inspiring guitar backing takes traditional Norwegian song into the modern era. I tried to find out how somebody of Jon Anders and Tore's generation became involved in playing traditional music.
Jon Anders: As a child I sang in different choirs - a boy's choir and church choir - in my hometown Lunde in Telemark. I also played in a rock band for a short period of time. But in my late teens I wanted to find out more about the local songs in my district, Telemark, a county rich in traditional arts in the forest and mountain area of south Norway. As a child I had heard old men sing these local songs, but did not pay that much attention to that. Later I became very interested and started to learn songs directly from these old men. As time passed by, I became involved in the Norwegian folk music community and met others of my age with the same interest. In the 1990s I studied medicine in Oslo and in my holidays I went back home and collected songs.
Tore: I first started out playing blues music in small clubs in my hometown of Tromsø. All my schoolmates were more into jazz and classical music and I had to attend the jams all by myself. All the other players were older than me so I learnt a lot. I started listening to records of B.B. King, Freddy King and Buddy Guy; I soon discovered the old acoustic players like Robert Johnson and Blind Willie Johnson which inspired me a lot. Then I came across a Norwegian guitar player called Knut Reiersrud [see CD review] who had listened to all the same music, in addition to a lot of world music and traditional Norwegian music. This was a huge discovery and I started playing with a fiddle player called Ragnhild Furebotten [Majorstuen -> FW#26]. We worked our way through high school playing traditional music from the northern part of Norway. We were the only ones doing that at the time in Tromsø. After I'd finished high school I moved to study Norwegian folk music in Rauland.
Jon Anders: At a folk music festival in Telemark three or four years ago I heard Tore play the guitar and I was very impressed. So I thought, lets catch this young guitar player before it's too late. We started to work together and had our real first gig just a couple of weeks after the 9/11 in 2001.
Where did you learn all the songs?
Jon Anders: In the beginning I learned from older persons in my community, in particular a man, Olav Haugen, now in his late 70s. After a while I had listened very much to older recordings, and the last five years I spent time in libraries and archives to find music that was collected up to 150 years ago in Telemark. All the time I have had contact with local singers. This weekend I visited a woman and I learned five very nice melodies from her. Melodies that are known to very few people today.
What is the origin of the songs and what are they about?
Jon Anders: We don't know where those songs are from. The songs I enjoy the most are the medieval ballads. They became popular in the late 1200s and have been very popular in Telemark up to our time. Telemark is even thought that region in Norway - and probably in Scandinavia - with the longest living tradition for this songs. In the 1700s and 1800s the ballads where replaced by other songs. They are called "bygdeviser," "stev" and "skillingsviser."
Tore: "Skillingvise" are broadside ballads; "stev" have short verses of four lines with a funny or wise content; "bygdevise" are songs from the 1800s describing love to the local community or new written songs about stories and myths from the local community, often written in dialect.
Jon Anders: Most of the older songs are about young peoples' struggle, in love, with there family, and in battles against animals, birds, strong weather etc. In some of them, even the old Norse mythology has a place. Some also have religious themes.
By the way, your CD is called "Nattsang". What does it mean?
Tore: Nightsongs! Many of our songs are like dreams because they have stories that are quite dramatic. So we believe that if a person has a dream and wakes up in the middle of the night and does not tell us about what he or her dreamt but starts to sing the stories, one would hear a "nightsong." Often the songs are so quietly performed as if being sung at night. We believe they have a nightly atmosphere.
Is there anything special about traditional music, song and dance in the Telemark area?
Jon Anders: The folk tradition is very rich in Telemark, in all respects. In crafts, in music, in architecture, in dialects. I have a feeling that there has been many folks here with independent thinking and anti-authoritarian thinking. The peasants in Telemark were not very in favour for the kings, for example. The music style in Telemark is very melodic, melancholic, at times advanced, and often with an archaic tonality.
But how alive is the tradition? Are their many traditional singers left? Young ones showing up - like yourself?
Jon Anders: There are still singers left. And when the older generation now soon will go away, we have the next generation that became interested in the 1970s. There are some young singers like myself. At the national competition - Landskappleiken - we are between ten and twenty of my age that compete. Even some children participate. So quite alive, but depending not on that many persons.
I suppose that the songs traditionally had been performed without accompaniment? Is there any animosity concerning your attitude?
Tore: We are very aware that the accompaniment must be done with respect for the original song. There has been one complaint - as I remember - about our interpretation of the folk music. But I think most people are very happy that it is still in use, and I think people like our way of doing the stuff. The main thing is that the stories are told in a way the audience can relate to.
What is your approach to accompany Jon Anders's singing?
Tore: When we rehearse new material, it usually starts with Jon Anders bringing a new melody that he likes and thinks it could work with our concept. Then I learn the melody by ear and start to think what kind of mood would suit that particular song. This also has a lot to do with what kind of lyrics we would like to use and what we want to express. Then the harmonies start to fall in place and we find a suitable key for Jon Anders singing. Then maybe I try to find a guitar tuning that could work. I use about four or five different guitar tunings, so usually we find a tuning we both agree on. Then maybe we think it could be nice with a side theme and instrumental part with a different melody. These are the parts I usually come up with.
Are there any activities besides the duo work?
Jon Anders: I have just released a CD with a group called "Dvergmål". We sing religious folk tunes from all over Norway. Very traditional, but I think you would like it. I am planning a CD release in 2005 with Ingvill Buen Garnås. In 2005 I am also going to play Tamino in Mozart's "Magic Flute" at the Norwegian opera, but this is a folk music interpretation. We will tour Norway in 2005, Sweden in 2006 - Mozart anniversary!
Tore: As a full-time musician you always have to look for job opportunities, so I always have some other projects going. In February I'm doing a tour of Norway with a group called "String Sisters," with - among others - Annbjørg Lien [FW#13, FW#26, FW#29] appearing in. It will probably a CD come out of that project.
So do we have still any chance to see you perform as a duo?
Tore: Definitely - sometime, somewhere in 2005! We are planning some dates in Germany; it will be around March I believe. Follow the homepage to www.nordpool-musik.de and check out the dates! We're really looking forward to that, because the German audience has been so nice the other times we've had the chance to play there. It also looks as if we're coming to Scotland some time next year if everything works out. And, of course, we'll do concerts in Norway as well.
Discography: Nattsang (2004)
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