Keeping Nordic music alive
Brooklyn’s favorite Swedish Meatball, Ellen Lindstrom, is a staple at many, many Scandinavian events throughout the tri-state area. Whether you are attending anniversaries, festivals, birthdays, or, of course, shopping at IKEA, you have a fair chance of encountering the reverberations from Ellen’s accordion. Her nimble fingers and ear-to-ear smile will warm your heart.
This is Ellen’s second gig, her first is as an assistant to a high-powered Manhattan executive. One wonders how she is able to juggle that demanding job with her dedication to her love of music, especially at all things Scandinavian.
But that does not mean that Ellen is limited in where and when she performs. The accordion is a very versatile instrument. Its unique sound resonates from the streets of Montmartre, the Sons of Norway events in Oslo, and the tango halls of Buenos Aires.
Ellen also has a five-piece band. One of her many talents is finding an ethnic tune most appropriate for the occasion. Just last month, she participated in “Accordions Around the World” in Bryant Park in New York, where she played at a five-hour festival, a culmination of weekly performances that had been held throughout the summer featuring Creole, jazz, Irish, Argentinian, Brazilian, Tex-Mex, among other musical traditions.
I had the opportunity to speak with Ellen about her life, Scandinavian roots, and love of music, especially the accordion.
Victoria Hofmo: Ellen, where did you grow up?
Ellen Lindstrom: I grew up in Long Island in a Scandinavian/Swedish household with all the delicious Swedish customs, cooking, food, and beautiful culture. At the age of 21, I flew the coop and moved to the Scandinavian stomping grounds of Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, where I was swaying and playing, squeezing and pleasing! Love it … there were tons of Scandinavians in Bay Ridge!
VH: Can you speak about your Scandinavian roots and how they have influenced you?
EL: My parents came to the U.S. during WWII and built their lives here and raised the family with their Scandinavian Swedish culture. Celebrating the holidays was stuffed with tradition: Easter (Glad Påsk), Midsummer, Crayfish Partytime, and Christmas (Jul). We had the Swedish food, festivities, and those special Scandinavian decorations.
VH: When did you first get interested in playing the accordion?
EL: As a very young child, while listening to my parents’ Scandinavian LP records. Then seeing accordionists play live at Scandinavian clubs like The Manhem Club in the Bronx, Lindbergh Lodge in Long Island, and the Sons of Norway lodges!
As a kid, I came across my first accordion while visiting a Swedish family’s home in Long Island. My strict Swedish mother instructed me to strictly play QUIETLY in a back-room with the other children and NOT make any NOISE. Needless to say, I found an accordion, picked it up—and have been making noise ever since! And, that’s the truth!
Tagged “The Swedish Meatball” by IKEA, I am the accordion player behind The Swedish Meatballs, a five-person band known for playing upbeat, toe-tapping Scandinavian music at U.S. festivals and events. I’ve been playing the accordion all my life.
VH: Did you take lessons? If so, with whom and for how long?
EL: I took lessons as a young child in a local music school in Babylon, Long Island, and then Ronkonkoma. As a teen, I then traveled into Garden City to take lessons from Scandinavian accordionist Eric-Olaf Ericsson and then to Brooklyn for lessons by Scandinavian accordionist Walter Eriksson (also known as “The Professor”). Then over the bridge to Staten Island with lessons by Italian accordionist Frank Busso (president of the American Accordionists Association at the time). And I am still practicing!
VH: You have a high-pressure, more than full-time job. How do you have time, and more importantly, the energy, to play so many gigs?
EL: I work every day and then there’s time to play. No matter how tired I am, when I strap on that accordion, the energy generates and flows through my veins! It’s a thrill to play music and make people happy! Love when their toes are tapping, feet stomping, song on their lips, a happy tear in their eyes, as they relate to music.
VH: Can you speak about a time you had an unbelievable experience because of your musical ability?
EL: The time I popped into a nursing home unexpected on a Christmas Day to play for a special friend and all the patients (some had no visitors). To touch their lives with music! It was an amazing experience. It’s better to give than to receive.
VH: Where can folks hear you this autumn?
EL: I am scheduled to play at several Scandinavian Fall fundraising fairs, Sons of Norway events, and lots of Oktoberfest parties, including for the U.S. Army at Fort Hamilton, Brooklyn, and at McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey, and Christmas parties. Best place to follow me/us is at www.theswedishmeatballs.com/shows.html.
VH: Is there anything you’d like to add?
EL: I am grateful and faithful! Each day is a blessing! I am thankful and happy to be squeezing and pleasing my squeezebox music to contribute to the success of all events and to keep our Scandinavian heritage strong!
This article originally appeared in the October 4, 2019, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.