Was reading an article online…in defense of accordions. A writer in San Francisco touched upon the obvious….like how hard it was to take Myron Floren of the Lawrence Welk show seriously in his tangerine colored leisure suit. And the words cheesy, corny, schlock, the sound of polka…associated with this instrument. The writer also described a performance he had been privileged to observe, in a quirky art space in Ocean Beach. A variety show performed by sex workers (strippers, prostitutes, phone operators). A chunky phone girl played Fat Bottom Girls with enthusiasm and energy and skill (on the accordion). He said he was the only straight male in that packed, sweaty audience. Having read his essay, I am approaching the two Easter songs I’m learning on my 12 bass, one secular and one sacred. I’ve been practicing Peter Cottontail and I Love to Tell the Story.
My brother gives a presentation with a colleague at an elder hostel and elsewhere on the subject of Scandinavian music. He admits it is rather lame, and I have tried to help him research and put in order some of his information. So far he has not used anything I’ve discovered but he promises that will change in the future.
As a result I have learned quite a lot about Scandinavian music. We are of Norwegian and Swedish descent and do not come by the music of the other Nordic or Northern European music through our heritage. Maybe a little Finnish because we live in close proximity to the Minnesota Iron Range region. But there are other cultures in the pantheon including Danish, Icelandic, Faroese, Sami, Greenlandic, Ålandic….It’s quite an adventure.
The two Icelandic folk instruments I have encountered through research are the langspil, similar to the Norwegian langeleik which is related to the dulcimer, and the fidla, a bowed instrument. It is my understanding that both of these were resurrected from the Viking era by means of reconstruction of museum pieces, but are now used widely in contemporary Icelandic music.
I was somewhat familiar with the Swedish troubador tradition, of setting poems to music, through the works of Bellman and Taube. What I didn’t know is that the tradition continues. Two current artists I listen to are Dan Viktor and Stephen Sundström. In fact, Sundström is a friend on MySpace. One of the most interesting artists is Cornelis Vreeswijk. He passed away in 1987 at the age of 50. Even though I am not fluent in Nordic languages, the biting satire of his songs comes through. He felt much of the tradition was insipid, and he proceeded to change that. He is quite famous as a composer of Swedish folk music. And continues to gain new fans even though he passed away quite a few years ago. What is interesting is that he grew up speaking Dutch. His parents moved to Sweden when he was about 12.
The Swedish bagpipe is called a säkpipa. Medieval paintings show the instrument was widely known all over Sweden. The tradition gradually died out, except in one area of Dalarna. The instrument was revived and reconstructed based on old instruments found in museums. Today, there are at least two folk groups who make use of the unique, soft sound of the Swedish bagpipes.