Monday, May 30, 2016

The Norwegian Cultural History of the Hardanger Fiddle: Guest Post from Eden Ehm

Decorah native Eden Ehm shares her Hardanger fiddle talent at a recent Nordic Fest
Editor's Note: Eden Ehm, a Nordic Dancers Orchestra alum and graduate of the Hardanger fiddle program at St. Olaf College, was kind enough to share her expertise on the history of this beautiful piece of Nordic Fest music in today's guest post. More on Eden below. Thank you, Eden, for enhancing the Nordic Fest 50 blog! 

Norway has a rich and strong tradition of unique music, dance, and art that are all embodied in the Hardanger fiddle.  The instrument's significance and transition through time are why the Hardanger Fiddle is considered representative of Norway's folk culture and is considered to be the folk instrument of Norway.  The artistry and craftsmanship of the fiddle maker, fiddler, dancers, and events where the hardingfele is played create the tradition that is the hardanger fiddle tradition. 

Norway's musical tradition originated with folk tunes.  Since the first fiddle was created in the 1600's, these tunes have been passed from teacher to student and between fiddlers, always learning the tunes directly from others and by ear.  This tradition of learning and created an aural chain that remains unbroken today with fiddlers in Norway and America learning the same favorite, old tunes and sharing new music.  This rich tradition links generations and continents together, creating a musical lineage among fiddlers and a rich culture surrounding the instrument.  Today, hardingfele repertoire has expanded to include new folk tunes, tone poems, and even concertos like the Tveitt Concertos.    

Hardanger fiddle is also important in Norwegian culture because of the events that the instrument is played for.  Fiddlers, fiddles, and the tunes they play were an important part of weddings, dance parties, and other important events.  While the fiddle was usually played solo, it gathered communities together at these events.  These traditions are kept alive today in both Norway and in America, while also allowing new traditions emerge, such as playing the hardingfele with others as part of a "lag" group or with other folk instruments.  Through time, the hardingfele has continued to create a tight-knit community around its playing, dancing, or simply enjoying the music and skills it takes to play the instrument.  

The fiddles themselves are examples of Norwegian folk art.  The rosemaling-esque inking, shell and bone inlay, carved scroll head and pegs, and overall fiddle design are unique to each maker.  Each fiddle has its own design, giving it its own personality and sound.  Whether it is an older fiddle or one made by a modern maker, they are treasured instruments to the fiddler and overall Norwegian culture.  Hardanger fiddles are pieces of art, but that artistry is elevated when they become a working piece of art when played.  

In America, especially a Norwegian-American community like Decorah, it is important to remember that hardanger fiddles came with immigrants to become a part of the Norwegian culture in the US in the 1800s and 1900s.  Learning, playing, and dancing to tunes continued in the new world, and competitions, famous fiddlers like Ole Bull or Fykerud, and fiddle groups and spellemannslags became popular during that time.  The making of new fiddles also continued by some makers in the US, namely the Helland Brothers of Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin.  As is common with immigrant groups, with future generations the old traditions and interests died out.  However, in recent decades there has been a resurgence in interest in folk music and dancing and the hardingfele has undergone a revival in the United States.  

More on Eden: A native of Decorah, Iowa, Eden Ehm grew up seeing beautiful Hardanger fiddles in Vesterheim Museum displays but never dreamed she would play one.  Her interest in folk music and fiddling began during her seven years as principal violinist of the Decorah Nordic Dancer's Orchestra.  Eden began studying the Hardanger fiddle in the prestigious Hardanger fiddle program at St. Olaf College - the only school in the United States to offer instruction and credit in this unique instrument.  During her time at St. Olaf, Eden had the opportunity to travel regionally and perform; fiddling for King Harold and Queen Sonja of Norway in during their visit to the Untied States in 2011 was a highlight.  

A member of the Hardanger Fiddle Association of America (HFAA), Eden enjoys attending workshops, camps, and learning new tunes from other fiddlers.  She is most often seen performing at Scandinavian festivals such as Decorah's Nordic Fest, where she performed in 2012, 2013, and 2014.  She hopes to one day travel to Norway to study Hardanger fiddle. 

In addition to Hardanger fiddle, Eden has played violin since the age of five.  She is the concertmaster of the Oneota Valley Community Orchestra and a member of the LaCrose Symphony Orchestra.  

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