Friday, June 6, 2014

A visitor from Denmark comes to document music in the Upper Midwest

My new buddy, Gunhild, came to Minnesota from this year to record a documentary that looks at how Scandinavian influenced music is progressing in America.  What she she came up with has some magical moments in it.  She agreed to talk with us about it:

Why Minnesota?  Why come all the way across the world to listen to Scandinavian inspired music so far removed?

Well. Why Minnesota? I chose Minnesota because of the large concentration of Scandinavian immigrants in the Upper Midwest in the end of the 19th century. I figured if I were to find any Scandinavian musical influence left alive in the younger generations, Minnesota would be a good place to start.

So basically I wanted (or I should say want, because it is a hopefully never ending process) to show, mainly Danish musicians, a glimpse of their musical traditional history.  Folk music in Denmark is not nearly as popular as in Norway and Sweden and I think that’s a shame because there are so many fascinating stories connected to it. Stories and songs that I am sure would work as a great inspiration if only people knew it existed or what and where to look for it.

Of course this project has never been limited to reach only Danish musicians. But it was the knowledge of the great material and inspiration for songwriting that triggered me to do this.

It soon became inevitable to cover Sweden and Norway in my project because it wouldn’t make any sense to exclude their musical traditions when we as nations have a long shared history and continued to settle down in the same regions in the Midwest. 

Explain a couple of your most profound moments of your journey?

I heard Paul Dahlin mention a fella up north who played the cow horn. The lonesome sound of the cow horn is one of the most beautiful sounds I know. So I drove up to the elder home on the countryside where he and his wife lived. It was one of these ridiculously beautiful cold days this winter where the snow was heavy and everything up there was so picturesque. Anyway when his wife opened the door to their apartment it was just like stepping into a Swedish home except for the heavy American flag flapping outside the window.
It turned out not only did he play the cow horn but also the neverlur. They both told me a lot of wonderful and very touching stories from a long life of being second-generation immigrants in the states. That was a very profound moment on my trip.
There were several of those though. Andrea Een played harding fiddle for me in her home in Northfield. It was so beautiful. That sound of the harding fiddle pierced though something in me of real Norwegian musical identity that I had never felt before.
I could go on…

Did you go back to Denmark thinking differently about the music or the world?   

I was once again relived to confirm that my university studies didn’t make any difference.  It’s the meeting with people and their stories that inspire me. 

And once again I felt that I am merely a medium for storytelling not a specialist.

Education is interaction.

You have this short documentary done and it stands on it’s own.  Future plans or dreams for you in this area?

I really want to keep on exploring this interaction of American/Scandinavian folk music today.  Many Scandinavian bands are inspired by American folk music but my question is still: Are there any American musicians who are inspired by Scandinavian folk music and where are they?  I want to do another documentary this time either from Wisconsin, Iowa or Washington State.   As a lot of other fun things in this world it depends on funding.

Of course I would like to exchange this music to a live audience in both Denmark and the Midwest. Right now I am working with a Danish duo, Phil Shivers, who are influenced by both their Scandinavian and American musical upbringing.

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