Scandinavian Folk Music in Minnesota
by ScanAmerica, Gunhild Øibakken Pedersen
Neverlur intro by Bob Gustafson
“Winterdreams” by Andrea Een
I grew up in northern Minnesota very far north.
And it was in an area that was rather isolated. Kind of like the last frontier in Minnesota. It was up in an area that was Indian reservation first.
And my grandfather who came from Norway he moved up there and homesteaded. So we lived on a homestead.
So people they had their traditions of course with them and music being one of those traditions.
There were a lot of people that played fiddle, not harding fiddle but just flat fiddle, regular fiddle. And then there were always accordion players and when people got together which was often and visited even in the wintertime. If they had to take a sled and horses they would visit.
They always had instruments; they were always present when people visited.
I asked one of the old-timers: ”You know, didn’t there use to be dances around here? What used to happen around here?”
And he is like: ”Oh yeah, you know, the Swedish folk and the Norwegian folks would through all these big barn dances and people would come from all around.”
He would just start talking about the tradition of it and it felt kind of otherworldly when he started talking about it.
He talked about everybody taking off all their clothes, well not all their clothes, but all their winter clothes and putting it in the corner of the barn. The kids would always just play in the coats and stuff the whole entire time when the adults dance. And sometimes they would go to 4 or 5 in the morning on a Saturday night or whatever and sometimes they would be racing to the barn dances. You would work in the barn all day and then at night you would do the dancing. And sometimes it was just regular Saturday night dancing for the heck of it.
Paul Dahlin – fiddle player
Daniel Dahlin – fiddle player
Playing the fiddle was always a part of that.
Weather it was just a weekend meal together on a Sunday or something and there was music afterwards.
There was an otherworldly vibe to it.
And I know that from my Appalachian music that when you get it jammed on, and it’s like 3 in the morning by the fire and it gets really intense, it’s like there is nothing else you know. There is the sky, there is the music, there are the people and there is nothing else you know.
It’s Thursday evening in Minneapolis and in the basement beneath Turnblad Mansion, The American Swedish Institute’s Spelmanslag is rehearsing. In the front sits Daniel Dahlin, fiddle player just as his dad, Paul Dahlin, and his uncle, Bruce Johnson, is the one with the red sweater on the left.
Paul’s grandfather, Edwin Johnson, was a fiddle player, born and raised in Dalarna in Sweden. He immigrated to the States in his 20ies and in a second Paul will explain how his grandfather, Edwin, taught him to play the violin, when Paul was just a kid.
He and my uncle Bruce would be playing and then I wanted to play. And they would play some tune that I had not yet learned and then I wanted to learn that.
When tape recorders were available then I could ask him to record something for me and I would take it home and learn it and figure it out at home.
You grew up with Appalachian music, Mike?
Yeah, and If you’re from the south you have to call it Appalachian music, cause they get mad if you say Appalachian. We do that up here too.
My mom, my stepfather who were in a bluegrass band so I was around bluegrass musicians all my childhood, would always spend all my weekends going to the shows, the pizza parlors and the venues, and had spend all night going
:”Oh”, you know at two in the morning you’re so tired and you’re like ”Oh, I am so tired I just want to go to sleep”, but the music keeps playing.
But now that I am older I look at it like I wouldn’t have traded that for nothing, you know.
It was great to be around that music, you know.
Well, my father played some fiddle. He was very musical, he played trumpet, was in bugle corps. He was a great dancer and loved Scandinavian gammaldans.
BOB AND CAROLINE GUSTAFSON
Caroline: That one you can blow and get some descent sound out of.
Bob: Yeah, I’ll give you this one. This is the one I play on.
Music is playing
Bob: I grew up with two immigrant Swedes; my mother and my father.
My dad came as a young boy with his mom and dad. And I think he was like
four years old when he came.
My mom came when she was just about twenty.
Scandinavian interest started about 6 or 7 years ago. I mean it has always been around on the periphery of what I was doing but I was never really invested in it.
But then he started collection old Scandinavian fiddle tunes around Minnesota. He gathered a group of his local Appalachian mountain music friends and together they made a record of Scandinavian folk music from Minnesota, called Minnesota Fiddle Tunes Project, and here is the story.
We did the Minnesota Fiddle Tunes Project, which was like; I did all my research, cause I really wanted to know who were the important fiddlers here for the last hundred years in Minnesota.
I did all the research to make sure I had a pretty good grasp on who the fiddlers were, what part of the state they came from, what their repertoire was, stuff like that.
I did all that work first, and then I actually started picking tunes, you know, it was kind of a random decision by me.
It was tunes I liked. It was what I chose.
Fiddlers I thought were important and tunes that I liked.
Mostly what we have here is Appalachian music as far as old time music goes, that is who plays up here.
Which is funny cause we are a long way from the mountains, the Appalachian Mountains.
I always thought it was funny that we played music from so far away when we had all this music right around us.
I got my, mostly young people, together but some older folks too, all of my mountain music friends that play the Appalachian music.
I got them together and started learning some of the Scandinavian influenced stuff.
So what we are trying to do is that we are trying to rebirth some of these tunes as just Minnesota music.
And when I looked at it like that and rebranded it like that, it gets more of the young people excited about the music, cause they see it as not just Norwegian music that is old from a hundred years ago, but they see it as:
“This is Minnesota music! We could remake this and make this for ourselves and actually play the music.“
Minnesota Fiddle Tunes Project plays
Randi Severson's Waltz.
Banjo, Clawhammer Mike
Guitar, Bob Dixon,
Fiddle, Anni Spring
Accordion, Ann Patton Larson
These tunes are intense. These tunes are great, you know. Especially the fiddle tunes, the accordion tunes. It is like, when you finally get young people listening in the right way then they really get into it and they’re like
“Oh yeah, this is something I really want to pursue and do.”
You stared Northside, the record label, when did you do that?
I started that in 1995. At that time I was running a national distribution company for independent cd labels and I was actually brought a box of discs from a representative from a Swedish label. It was a new label that had just started in Sweden called Xource that was taking music by mostly younger musicians who were taking traditional Swedish folk music and mixing it with rock or other kind of modern genres.
And it was really the younger musicians mixing genres that hooked me in. But of course ones I was hooked in I started to go back and listen to sort of the hard-core stuff; the soloist, the older fiddlers and things like that, the singers.
And it was like anything else with music, it speaks to some part of your soul.
“Höstvals” by Andrea Een
This is Andrea Een. She plays harding fiddle. Her great grand parents on her mother’s side emigrated from Norway to Illinois in the end of the 19th century.
And in a little town called Northfield south of Minneapolis she plays for me in her living room on one of the coldest days in Minnesota in a hundred years.
My current project is doing the music of Leonard Finseth. Leonard Finseth was a great fiddle player from outside of Mondovi, Wisconsin, who lived on a farm his entire life. And he was a farmer that is basically what he was. But he was also a great fiddler who learned from his uncle, Ed Quall and some of his neighbors.
For some reason that area in Drammen Township was a hotbed of immigrating fiddlers from Norway.
We got Leonard’s music and he was nice enough to leave us home recordings of him playing with almost every one that he ever played with, he always had the record button on. And now we’re trying to recreate some of that vibe that was happening in Minnesota in generations gone past.
We have a band that has been working to recreate the music as best we can. You know we still use some of the traditional instruments; like portable pump organs, which were popular around here because you could bring them anywhere.
We got the old nyckelharpa. We are borrowing a hardanger fiddle from the Schubert Club in the Twin Cities, a music club that has old instruments and they are letting us borrow a hardanger that we have to get good at in a couple of months.
So we are trying to infuse the music with the traditional flavor, but still it’s not going to be what it was. It is never, never going to be what it was.
And you are not going to do it the same way as the last person did it. And I know that from Appalachian music, that a traditional tune isn’t played the exact same way over the generations because it is taught orally so people hear it differently, people hear it differently, choose to emphasize different things.
Sometimes you are wondering what they are listening to cause it sounds ten times different than the person they learned it from.
The great thing about Scandinavian mindset is people are generally pretty open and especially accepting of people doing things with a traditional culture, which is probably why it was able to happen in the younger generations there in the first place.
I want people to play the tunes, I want there to be a community, I want people to play the tunes, I want to have fun playing the tunes.
I think it is harder and harder actually to promote music from a specific culture uniquely because frankly there is very few pure cultural music left.
The problem is we only have a certain amount of time before both the reel to reels and the tapes totally disintegrate into nothing.
In fact the tapes I have are already of marginal quality and they’re only 40-some years old. So we only have a certain amount of time to preserve all the music before it is truly lost forever.
I think it is important not only to get people aware of their own music and cultural history but also do document what young musicians are doing with it now, to make sure that does not get lost either.
There is real tradition here; real culture that is going on that just needs a little bit of rebirth.
Storsveen’s Schottiche originally by Leonard Finseth, played by Clawhammer Mike
Byssan Lull – Lullaby by Dan Haugaard from the recording entitled Danish Folk Songs FW06857, courtesy of Smithsonian Folkways (p) (c) 1957. Used by permission.