Barneblad: “Fiddlin’ around” and having fun with Per Spelmann

A monthly feature to share with kids and grandkids
Per Spelmann
Brought to you by Lori Ann Reinhall

In an issue with so much about fiddling and folk traditions, it is fitting for this month’s Barneblad to talk about one of Norway’s most famous folk figures, Per Spelmann, or Per the Fiddler.

Most of us know of the famous song of the same name. The story goes that Per sold his fiddle to buy a cow and then regretted his decision. He sells the cow and buys his fiddle back, and vows he will never sell his fiddle again, even when he is as old as the moss on the tree!

But perhaps fewer people know that Per Spelmann is said to have been a person in real life. Legend has it that he was a simple farm boy, who at the age of 15, somehow managed to buy a fiddle. He started to travel around Norway, playing for others to make his way in life. With time, Per became a master fiddler, and of course, he charmed the girls. Before long, Per got happily married, and when he sometimes played himself into a trance, his wife had to grab the fiddle out of his hands.

These days, we can have fun with the song “Per Spelmann,” although it’s not necessary to put ourselves in a trance. But first of all, we need to make sure that we know the song. The melody is simple:

You can also find a many recordings on YouTube. This is one of my favorites: www.youtube.com/watch?v=5PDS4d1CND4.

One of the most fun things to do with Per Spelmann is to dance in a ring, the way schoolchildren in Norway do. Listen to the beat of the song, and stamp your foot on the downbeat in each verse.

And when you come to the chorus, it’s time to play the fiddle. Pretend like you are holding the instrument in one hand and fiddle away to the music, with the imaginary bow in your other hand.

You will also want to know what the song means. Here are a few verses that you can sing in English:

Per Fiddler, he had but just one single cow,

Per Fiddler, he had but just one single cow,

He bartered her off, has his fiddle back now,

He bartered her off, has his fiddle back now.

You good ole fiddle strings, you fiddle strings, 

My fiddle strings, 

you fiddle-dee-dee!

 

Per Fiddler, he played, and the fiddle, she laughed!

Per Fiddler, he played, and the fiddle, she laughed!

The boys were a’ dancing, and the girls cried, alas!

The boys were a’ dancing, and the girls cried, alas!

You good ole fiddle strings, you fiddle strings, 

My fiddle strings, 

you fiddle-dee-dee!

 

If I were old as the moss on the tree,

If I were old as the moss on the tree,

I’d never trade in my fiddle for beast.

I’d never trade in my fiddle for beast.

You good ole fiddle strings, you fiddle strings, 

My fiddle strings, 

you fiddle-dee-dee!

Per Spelmann

Another fun activity is to learn a few Norwegian words with this old folk song. Think of the following (many of the words are very close to the English ones):

ku = cow

fela = the fiddle

jentene = the girls

gutane = the boys

fiolin = violin

mose = moss

tre = tree

Find pictures or make drawings of each of these items. Sing or play the song back in Norwegian, and hold up the picture for each word when you hear it. You will be amazed at how quickly the Norwegian will be stuck in your head!

Did you enjoy all the activities around “Per Spelmann?” It is just one of many wonderful Norwegian folk songs to explore, many with special dances and games. You may want to explore YouTube with your family and friends. Or if you live near a Sons of Norway lodge or a Norwegian cultural center or museum, there may be a special children’s dance group for you to join. There are children’s fiddling groups in many places if you would like to be like Per Spelmann and learn the violin. Moms and dads can help kids look for these opportunities to explore their heritage and have even more fun.

This article originally appeared in the February 21, 2020, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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