Three musicians come together in Alaska to showcase Norway’s traditional music
She leans forward into the mike when she sings, her face framed by long blond hair. In her Sunnmøre bunad, she resembles a princess from the illustrations in Asbjørnsen and Moe’s Norwegian Folk Tales. On her right is a tall, lean young man with a mane of swept-back brown hair wearing a vest and intently playing a traditional Hardanger fiddle; on her left is another young man, but this one is stocky with long hair that makes him look like a perfect extra for a Viking movie. Instead of swinging a sword, he’s energetically playing a large, dark-colored accordion.
They are three accomplished Norwegian soloists who came together in Anchorage, Alaska, to give a performance called Norwegian Notes for the Anchorage Lutheran Concert Series on August 6, 2017. Though they’d only been playing together for two and a half weeks, the solo performers complemented each other with their musicality and well-choreographed collaboration. As their tour organizer, Mari Eikeland, explained, “Each brings something to the performance, so they shine together and make a musical marriage.”
The lead singer of the newly formed group, Ann-Marita Garsed, comes from the Geirangerfjord area of Norway, but she is now based in California where she has released three independent albums. She has performed professionally in Europe and Australia at a number of world-renowned music festivals. She is known for the range of her voice and her charismatic stage presence.
Skogen Sällström is the Hardanger fiddle player. He is from Trondheim, Norway, where he earned a master’s degree in Norwegian music from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), specializing in both the Hardanger fiddle and the classical violin.
Knut Erik Jensen is the Viking look-alike. He plays both the piano and the accordion, and he too received his master’s degree from NTNU. In 2014 he and Sällström toured Seattle, Vancouver, and Fairbanks, Alaska, in their notable Arctic Memoirs Project.
What made these three performers stand out was their willingness to share their knowledge with the audience. For instance, Sällström first played the traditional tune “Rotman-Knut” on the Hardanger fiddle, then explained that the tune had also been arranged for piano by the famous Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg. Jensen then sat at the piano and showed the audience how different the same tune sounded in classical piano mode.
Similarly, Sällström talked about the great Norwegian violinist Ole Bull who promoted the sounds of Norway across Europe and North America in the 19th century. He then played a beautiful and haunting Ole Bull tune, “Et Sæterbesøk” (The Seter [Mountain Farm] Visit), just as Ole Bull would have, not on the Hardanger fiddle but on the classical violin. Garsed spoke about the Norwegian immigrants who came to the U.S. during the time of both Ole Bull and Grieg and then sang a song of her own composition called “Karoline.” This song, sung in English, in an “Americana style,” tells the moving story of her great grandfather’s sister, who immigrated alone as a young woman.
After the concert, I was able to speak at length to Eikeland and the musicians. They emphasized that Norway’s traditional music is not simple to play or sing; it is immensely complex and intricate. Sällström explained that what makes Norway’s music unique is its heavy emphasis on the minor as opposed to the major scale, which is typically more dominant in Western European music.
The musicians of Norwegian Notes continue to bring recognition to Norway’s musical traditions through their masterful performances and teaching. They also have other projects in the making. One day they hope to put together a musical that would tell the story of Norwegians in the Klondike. But for now, they have gone their separate ways as soloists, only to perhaps reform next June.
To learn more about these Norwegian musicians, visit their websites: www.annmarita.com, www.knuterikjensen.com, and www.skogensallstrom.com (the latter still under construction). Also, search for their names to find them on YouTube.
This article originally appeared in the Sept. 8, 2017, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.