TFF Rudolstadt 2015 focusing Norway and its music!
Norway is a rather sparsely populated country in Europe (5 million inhabitants in an area of some 324,000 km2 (125,097 sq mi) excluding Svalbard and Jan-Mayen), but even so its music and its musical life are as complex as those of most other countries. Much has been learned about early music in Norway from physical artifacts found during archaeological digs. These include such instruments such as the lur. Viking and medieval sagas also describe musical activity, as do the accounts of priests and pilgrims from all over Europe coming to visit St Olaf's grave in Trondheim.
In the later part of the 19th century Norway experienced economic growth leading to greater industrialization and urbanization. More music was established in the cities, and opera performances and symphony concerts were considered to be of high standards. In this era both prominent composers (like Edvard Grieg and Johan Svendsen) and performers combined the European traditions with Norwegian tones.
The import of music and musicians for dance and entertainment increased, and this continued in the 20th century, even more so when gramophone records and radio became common. In the last half of the 20th century, Norway, like many other countries in the world, underwent a roots revival that saw indigenous music being revived.
Before 1840, there were limited written sources of folk music in Norway. Originally these historical attainments were believed to have a distinct Christian influence. As research continued, there was also mythical and fairy tale connections to the folk music. Overall the purpose of folk music was for entertainment and dancing.
Norwegian folk music may be divided into two categories: instrumental and vocal. As a rule instrumental folk music is dance music (slåtter). Norwegian folk dances are social dances and usually performed by couples, although there are a number of solo dances as well, such as the halling. Norway has very little of the ceremonial dance characteristic of other cultures. Dance melodies may be broken down into two types: two-beat and three-beat dances. The former are called halling, gangar or rull, whereas the latter are springar or springleik.
Traditional dances are normally referred to as bygdedans (village or regional dance). These dances, sometimes called "courting dances" were often connected to the important events of rural (farming) life: weddings, funerals and cyclical feasts like Christmas.
Folk music in Norway falls in another 2 main categories based in the ethnic populations from which they spring: North Germanic and Sami.
Traditional Sami music is centered around a particular vocal style called joik. Originally, joik referred to only one of several Sami singing styles, but in English the word is often used to refer to all types of traditional Sami singing. Its sound is comparable to the traditional chanting of some American Aboriginal cultures.
Traditional North Germanic Norwegian vocal music includes (kvad), ballads and short, often improvised songs (stev), among the most common types of traditional music. Work songs, hymns, tralling vocals and old printed ballad stories, skillingsviser, have also been popular.
Norway shares some Nordic dance music tradition with its neighbouring countries of Sweden and Denmark, where the most typical instrument is the fiddle. In Norway, the Hardanger fiddle (hardingfele), the most distinctive instrument in Norwegian folk music, looks and plays like a standard violin. It is only to be found primarily in the western and central part of the country. The Hardanger fiddle dates back to around 1700 and however differs from the ordinary fiddle in many respects. The most important of these is that it has sympathetic strings and a less curved bridge and fingerboard. Thus, the performer plays on two strings most of the time, creating a typical bourdon style. The Hardanger fiddle tradition is rich and powerful. By traditional, orally conveyed instruction was one of the most important aspects of a Hardanger fiddle player's accomplishment.
Epic folk songs are the most important form of vocal folk music in Norway. Although there are many types of epic folk songs, the most intriguing are the medieval ballads. They were first transcribed in the previous century, but the ballad tradition has been handed down from the Middle Ages. The lyrics of these songs also revolve around this period of history, recounting tales of the lives of nobles, and of knights and maidens. A number of the ballads describe historical events, and they are often dramatic and tragic.
In the second half of the 19th century, some fiddlers, especially those from Voss and Telemark, significantly Lars Fykerud (who eventually moved to Stoughton, Wisconsin in the United States and then returned to Telemark late in life), began introducing more expressive ways of playing, turning the traditional slått music to concert music for the urban classes.
At the same time, new dances and tunes were imported from Europe, including the fandango, reinlender, waltz, polka and mazurka. Recent scholarship suggests that a number of these forms may have originally been brought to Norway by Romani (known in Norwegian by the pejorative term, "tater"), among them the fiddler Karl Fant. These forms are now known as runddans (round dances) or gammeldans (old dances).
Perhaps the most popular and controversial of modern Hardanger fiddle artists is Annbjørg Lien, who released her first album, Annbjørg in 1989. The album featured Helge Førde and Frode Fjellheim and was both praised for its innovative fusion work and expressive style, and criticized for its watering-down of traditional sounds and a lack of regional tradition.
Other Norwegian traditional instruments include:
As of today, there is an eclectic use of both folk music and its traditional instruments. Interest in folk music is growing, and there are a number of promising young performers. They are not only drawn to instrumental music, however. Many young people are now learning to sing in the traditional style. During the past few decades (since the folk-rock trend), folk musicians have displayed a greater interest in experimentation. A new generation has emerged which, while showing respect for the old traditions, is also willing to think along new lines. A number of well-known folk music artists in Norway have made excellent recordings using new instruments and new arrangements. In recent years artists like Gåte and Odd Nordstoga have made folk music more accessible to younger crowds. Gåte fused folk music with metal and became very popular. Lumsk is another band mixing Norwegian traditional folk music with metal. The most famous Sami singer is undoubtedly Mari Boine, who sings a type of minimalist folk-rock with joik roots. Karl Seglem is a Norwegian musician and composer who plays saxophone and bukkehorn. Sofia Jannok is also a popular Sami contemporary artist.
There are also some important institutions, for example the National Association of Folk Musicians. It is an organization founded in 1923 for folk music artists and folk dancers and it is primarily a union for local and regional folk music associations, but it is also open to individual members. As of 1990, the national association had 6,000 members from approx. 125 different local organizations. The National Association of Folk Musicians publishes Spelemannsbladet, a folk music journal that comes out 12 times a year. It also arranges the annual Landskappleiken (National Contest for Traditional Music), which is the most important event of its kind in Norway.
Folk music has a distinct part of Norwegian history, and most historical collection was done by L.M Lindeman. A large part of the collections are maintained and preserved in the National Folk Music Collection and at the National Library.
Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation (NRK) uses and includes recordings of folk music from the archive of NRK, which contains over 50,000 recordings from 1934 until today, in addition to other recordings in the radio channels and the specialized radio channel NRK Folkemusikk.
World music, a musical genre where there are influences from at least two cultural traditions, has established itself little by little as one of the minor but vivid musical genres in Norway. In Norway there are some musicians and bands whose music is chategorized as world music. For example the Irish-Norwegian Secret Garden, which won the Eurovision Song Contest in 1995, plays New Instrumental Music. In addition, the well reviewed Ras Nas mixes African music and reggae music with poetry. Vindrosa's music is traditional Norwegian folk songs with ethnic spices, and Annbjørg Lien blends traditional Norwegian music with jazz and rock. A couple of music festivals that are specialized in world music are organized in Norway every year. The Oslo World Music Festival was started by Concerts Norway (Rikskonsertene) in 1994, and ever since the festival has introduced a multifaceted repertoire from Africa, Asia and Latin America. In fact, the festival has grown to be so dynamic and resilient that the Norwegian government has decided to give it independent status- no longer will it be an initiative under Concerts Norway. The Riddu Riđđu festival was founded by the Sami associations in 1991 at first as a festival for the Sami music and culture, but since then the festival has expanded to concern also international indigenous peoples. The association called Samspill International Music Network (SIMN) is an organization for both musicians and dancers, and it promotes the position of world music in Norway. The organization co-ordinates for example information services, concert cooperation and seminars, and one of its main goals is to develop the music and dance in Norway.
In recent years artists like Gåte and Odd Nordstoga have made folk music more accessible to younger crowds. Gåte fused folk music with metal and became very popular. Lumsk is another band mixing Norwegian traditional folk music with metal. The most famous Sami singer is undoubtedly Mari Boine, who sings a type of minimalist folk-rock with joik roots. Karl Seglem is a Norwegian musician and composer who plays sax and bukkehorn. A well known folk rock band called Plumbo has made an impact the last few years with songs like "Mökkamann" and especially "Ola Nordmann", which was their song of choice when they participated in Melody Grand Prix 2012.
In traditional Sami music songs (e.g. Kvad and Leudd songs) and joiks are important musical expressions. The Sami also use a variety of musical instruments, some unique to the Sami, some traditional Scandinavian, and some modern introductions.
Improvised, highly spiritual songs called joiks (North Sami: luohti; South Sami: vuolle) are the most characteristic song type. (The same word sometimes refers to lavlu or vuelie songs, though this is technically incorrect.) Joiks do not rhyme, and have no definite structure. They are typically about any subject of importance to the singer, and vary widely in content. Purely folk joiks have declined in popularity over the 20th century, due to the influence of pop radio and religious fundamentalism, especially Laestadianism. Nevertheless, joik performers of some fame include Angelit (former Angelin tytöt, Girls of Angeli), Wimme Saari and Nils-Aslak Valkeapää from Finnish Sápmi. Many modern singers are signed to DAT, the premier record label in Sami music.
The most famous Sami singer is Mari Boine of Norway, who sings a type of minimalist folk-rock with joik roots. Some non-Sami artists, including RinneRadio, Xymox and Jan Garbarek, have used joik and other Sami styles in their music.
The Finnish folk metal band Sháman introduced what some call "yoik metal" in the late 1990s, drawing attention to Sámi music in the heavy metal scene. Their music incorporated Sámi elements such as yoik singing, Sami lyrics, and shamanic drum. The vocalist has also yoiked for fellow Finnish folk metal band Finntroll. Also Finnish black metal band Barathrum (On Eerie albums first track) and Swedish black metal band Arckanum have used joik parts in couple of their songs.
In January 2008, the Sami artist Ann Marie Anderson, singing "Ándagassii" qualified to the finals of Melodi Grand Prix 2008, (the Norwegian national selection for the Eurovision Song Contest 2008), but she did not win. In Mars 2015 the Swedish sami artist Jon Henrik Fjallgren came second with his song "Jag ar fri" in the finals in the national selection for the Eurovision Song Contest 2015.
Some sources have commented on a supposed lack of musical instruments among the Sami, with one 1885 work noting: "They cannot claim to possess a single instrument of their own, not even the most primitive." Despite these beliefs, the Sami employ a variety of musical instruments, several unique to them. Among their more unique instruments are the fadno, a reedpipe made from Angelica archangelica stalks, and the Sami drum. Late 18th century researchers also noted two bagpipes in Lapland: the sak-pipe and the wal-pipe.
Other Sami instruments of wider Scandinavian usage include the lur (a long horn trumpet), and the harpu, a zither similar to the Finnish kantele. Willow flutes are often made from the bark of the quicken tree or mountain ash.
Modern bands use a wide variety of instruments, especially the fiddle, concertina, and accordion.
The Halling (hallingdansen) is a folk dance (bygdedans) traditionally performed in rural Norway, although versions of the halling can also be found in parts of Sweden. The dance is traditionally performed by young men at weddings and parties.
The halling is a quick (95-106 bpm) dance in 6/8 or 2/4 that includes acrobatic, athletic competition between the dancers. Hallingdans can best be described as rhythmic acrobatic dance and consists of a number of steps which requires both strength and softness elation. The dance is associated with the valleys and traditional districts of Valdres and Hallingdal, where it is often referred to as the laus (loose dance). The term refers to it being danced solo, not in couples (although coupled halling dancing is traditional in the western parts of the country). According to some scholars, the word may refer to the fact that the dance was "half" the performance, as the other half was the springar (after the fashion of a Renaissance dance suite).
The meter of the dance is 2/4 or 6/8 of a quite fast (95-106 bpm), sharp quality which calls for an experienced musician. The musician has to give the dancers enough impetus to perform the various challenging moves that are involved in the dance such as the nakkespretten (neck jump), kruking (hooked dancing), hodestift (going over the head) and especially the kast (throw). The dancer Olav Thorshaug performed hallingdans shows in the United States of America around 1910-1920, incorporating the headspin in his dance.
One of the dance moves is called hallingkast. In this move, a girl has traditionally held a hat high using a stick or something similar, and the dancer is supposed to kick down the hat. Kast is seen as the test of strength, which involves kicking a hat that is held about 230 to 280 cm above the floor. Some girls have been able dancers themselves, and known to be as agile as any man.
TFF Focus Norway Hallvard T. Bjørgum Eplemøya Songlag Frikar Gjermund Larsen Trio Norske Dansere Sly & Robbie meet Nils Pettar Molvaer (JAM/NOR) Spelemanslag Småviltlaget "Trollmusikken" (Silje Hegg | Geir Egil Larsen | Ingvild Lie | Tom Willy Rustad) Valkyrien Allstars Åsne Valland Nordli, Sigbjørn Apeland & Trygve Seim Vassvik
Noted Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg composed several pieces of music for the halling dance in his Lyric Pieces The dance was used in the Norwegian winning contribution to the 2009 Eurovision Song Contest performed by the Frikar Dance Company together with singer and fiddle player Alexander Rybak. Frikar Dance Company has toured 29 countries with halling dance the last years. The company's founder and choreographer Hallgrim Hansegård is known as the reinventor of halling, exploring the tradition in meeting with new artistic expressions and arenas as for example in the computer game "Age of Conan".
Text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License.
Date: May 2015.
Photo Credits: (1) TFF Rudolstadt 2015 Logo (2) Funny van Dannen, (3) Gjermund Larsen, (4) Eplemøya Songlag, (6) Frigg, (7) Nordic Fiddlers Bloc, (8) Terje Isungset, (9) Erlend Apneseth, (10) Benedicte Maurseth, (11) Vassvik, (12) Hallvard T. Bjørgum (unknown/websites); (5) Valkyrien Allstars (by Walkin' Tom).