Alluring instruments: Norway’s unique sounds resonate in memory

Photo: Emily C. Skaftun
Hanne Maren Kristensen demonstrates a Lur, using it to herald the beginning of the cultural event that is the Peer Gynt Festival from inside the festival’s dining tent.

Larrie Wanberg
Features Editor

When I was a graduate student studying in Norway in the mid-1950s, I was introduced to unique Norwegian folk music and two musical instruments—the Hardanger Fiddle, known as Norway’s national instrument, and the Lur.

In Voss, I was privileged to meet and hear well-known violin players on the Hardanger Fiddle—literally a work of folk art in its construction and sound. The fiddle’s eerie chords come from the four or five sympathetic strings under the finger board that adds an echoing sound.

The Hardanger Fiddle has ceremonial traditions of players leading Norwegian wedding parties as they parade from a farm site to the church with the bride sitting on a fjord horse led by the groom on foot. Today, one of my nephews in Voss is an accomplished Hardanger Fiddle player and performs at wedding dinners and cultural events.

During the same time as a student, I visited my family’s ancestral farm in Nord­fjord, where I was introduced to an unfamiliar musical instrument called a Lur. It rested on the wall of an unoccupied historic log house, complete with a grass roof, that stood along the side of a two-story modern farm home. The decor in the little house was a step into the past that showcased a collection of heritage artifacts with rose-painted chests and bowls, hand-carved figures and panels, and colorful woven rugs and wall hangings.

The Lur is a long wooden “trumpet” about five to six feet long, wrapped in birch bark, with a trumpet-like wooden mouthpiece on the end opposite the bell. It has multiple uses but is primarily an instrument used for heralding the beginning of a cultural event.

My cousin on the home farm at that time, Elling Vanberg, demonstrated other uses of the Lur. He guided me on a strenuous hike high on the mountain that rose abruptly behind the farm to the “saeter” where they grazed the cows on a meadow during the summer. When at this small cabin, he took a time-worn Lur from its hooks on the wall, put the horn to his mouth, faced the open valley, and played a series of notes that had such resonance that it seemed to fill the valley below with musical sound. The Lur on this saeter was used for calling the grazing livestock together for feeding or sending a musical message to the home farm below. This memory of melodic resonance still rings in my ears as I remember that moment in time.

A modern backstory to my cousin Elling recently emerged through a Norwegian jazz album of modern music titled “Ellivan.” This album prompted me to reflect on my cousin Elling, who in his lifetime had become a well-known poet on Norwegian radio. His poetic works inspired Arve Henricksen, a popular Norwegian trumpet player with distinctive flute-like sounds, to compose music that lives on in the melodies presented at a music festival and in a record album.

The backstory, as told by Henricksen, is that at age 15, he heard Elling recite poetry in a classroom in school and it had a lasting impression on him. Years later, after Elling had died, Henricksen was commissioned to produce music for the Balejazz Festival in Balestrand. The memory of Elling’s voice in poetry inspired the composition, as Henricksen reports:

“I have my own personal connection with this music, and I hope that the form of the record and Elling’s voice can give the listener a glimpse of nature, of life on the farm and in the fjord district, of deep relationships and of the seasons. His poems can be seen as personal and local but also as having a universal perspective.”

Music from the masters reigns in Norway in many venues and styles, but the sound of the Lur that filled the valley and mountain meadow where my ancestors once stood still gives me goose bumps from a once-in-a-lifetime memory.

Larrie writes features that draw on eight decades of life experience highlighted by three career recognitions: As a researcher through a Fulbright Scholarship to Norway in 1957; As a health care provider in behavioral science through a 27-year military career and awarded upon retirement in 1981 the highest non-combat medal, the Legion of Merit medal; As an educator, through a 50-year career in college education, culminating in the 2010 Public Scholar award at the UND Center for Community Engagement.

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.

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