Saturday, October 18, 2008

Nyckel Harpe in My Living Room

What a whirlwind week it's been. Our friend (who is of Norwegian descent) managed to get the Norwegian folk group, Vestafor, to come to Boise. They were here for three days. And what a packed three days it was.

On Wednesday we had them at our house for a Norwegian music workshop. We learned about a few basics of Norwegian folk music, like cross tunings, rhythms, and regional variations. We also got to hear and see some of the instruments; nyckel harpe, button accordion and hardanger fiddle.

As a relatively geographically-isolated country, Norway has a long, uninterrupted history of folk music and dance. It feels and sounds very alien to the more central European styles we're used to. One difference Toby pointed out is that while in most traditions the dancers tailor the music to the dance, in Norwegian culture the fiddler is in control. Time signature, tunes and length are all a matter of the fiddler's taste. Many tunes are put together from two-bar building blocks and then variations are added. Many dances are done in couples. The dancers listen and vary their dance figures to fit what they hear. So it is rare to hear the tunes played exactly the same way from one time to the next, and the same for the dances.

The members of Vestafor, Toby, Ginny and Mikkel, not only play the music, they also know many of the folk dances that go with the music. On Thursday there was a dance workshop. We tried a bunch of different dances, some simple, and some so much more complicated we only could touch on the very basics. I managed to remember at least two of the easy mixers that I plan to teach my SCD class. I'd like to try more but one limitation is choosing the correct music - and I just don't know enough to do that.

Last night there was a concert and dance. Vestafor did a wide variety of different regional tunes and varied their instruments as needed, including willow flute and mouth harp. The second half was the dance. Most of the audience got up to try things. Those of us who'd gone to the workshop on Thursday got to review what we'd learned and more. It's energetic dancing, but lots of fun. We're all looking forward to having them back next year.

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