I predict nyckelharpas will soon be played on every block in Minnesota. Until that time, we have this beautiful album to listen to. Soon everyone will be familiar with the clicking of this cacophonous instrument again (think big fiddle with lots of strings being pressed down by wooden keys).
One of my favorite things about the nyckelharpa is listening to the keys click away in the background. To hear this beautiful instrument envelop a room you have to listen to its parts working arrhythmically. Tjärnblom album Nicollet Island Waltz gives everyone a chance to experience this.
This Minneapolis foursome consists of two nyckelharpas, a mandolin and a pump organ. They handle this material with a cloud-like lightness. I remember when they were recording a few tunes for the first MN Fiddle Tunes Project CD- as soon as they started playing I was hooked with their infectious style.
This is a diverse sounding disc of Swedish, Finnish and Minnesota tunes both old and newly composed. It is a joy to listen to intently or to have playing in the background as you do the dishes and go about your household business.
I had some questions for Tjärnblom and spoke with members of the band: Cheryl Pashcke and Mary Crimi, nyckelkarpa; Val Eng, harmonium; and Joe Alfano, mandolin.
You have a lot of different kinds of material on the new CD. How do you go about choosing repertoire and arrangements?
We each bring tunes to the group, then select pieces considering type of tune, key, origin and context, and try out arrangement ideas. Keeping our “sound” -- instrument mix -- is important as well as staying with our areas of focus – dance and listening tunes of Swedish, Finnish and Minnesota origin.
Arrangements evolve as we try out ideas to determine who has the lead/melody, when/if the melody moves to other instruments, how sparse or dense the accompaniment should be, where the rhythm “sits”, etc. We play within the tradition but also play with the tradition, going back to sources, recording and listening to ourselves, reevaluating, trying again.
The CD recording process -- we had three sessions over 17 months -- gave us the opportunity to listen to ourselves, really hear what was going on and make changes individually and as a group.
What are the major influences that drive the band?
We are all practicing musicians. We build on our varied backgrounds, particularly Nordic music and dance, and enjoy the creative process. Sharing the music and its context is important to us. We have been well received by audiences and look forward to more performance opportunities made possible by having a recording to share.
We have had a lot of happy accidents that have come our way, such as finding the Tjärnblom tune, visits from some Nordic musicians, involvement in the MN Fiddle Tunes Project, and working with Kevin Bowe and IPR.
Being a band that mostly plays music from over the pond - Where do you see yourselves on the spectrum of Upper Midwest old-time music?
Most of our repertoire is dance music … we respect, want to honor and help preserve the tunes, stories and sources; our instrumentation influences our “take” on it. We love the Midwest tunes we have in our repertoire and are active in seeking additional local tunes -- the tunes resonate with us and with our audiences. Our music and stories all contain a certain regional accent since we all have fairly deep roots in this part of the country.
Nyckelharpa is a mostly invisible instrument in America. Does it have a future here and can it stay relevant in modern times?
Yes, nyckelharpa is here to stay! It is appealing to performers and audiences because of its beautiful sound, unique appearance and consequent playing technique, and interesting history. It does suit a variety of styles and genres of music, as evidenced by growth in use internationally.
Now that there are two makers here in the Midwest, it is easier for new players to obtain instruments. Membership in Twin Cities Nyckelharpalag (TCNL) has increased this past year, in part due to increased visibility of nyckelharpa locally in performance and in an exhibit at the American Swedish Institute. TCNL is an important foundational group and as a non-profit with an education mission, is a reminder that historically the music has a purpose - dance, gift giving, special events.
Our other instruments - mandolin and harmonium – also generate audience interest.
What is coming up for the band and how has the CD been received?
Upcoming performance events include:
Finn Fest 2014, August 8 & 9; a return performance at Bryant Lake Bowl, Sunday Sept. 14 at 7:00 p.m. (our CD release was a sold out event) -- look on our Facebook page for details.
We also play for private events and are working on new selections and considering new projects.
The CD has been received very well; we have gotten very positive feedback from fellow musicians, dancers, and new listeners.
Order CD here.