The American dream of Norway
Part 3: Rachel Nesvig
Our ancestors came to America to give their families a better life. Now young Norwegian Americans dream of the old country. This series of interviews was conducted by a visiting Norwegian journalist.
Rachel Nesvig, 33, looks out over Seattle from a lookout point on Beacon Hill. In her hands she holds a Hardanger fiddle. She plays “Lofthusen,” a tune named after the fiddler Lars Lofthus from Voss. The traffic from the multi-lane road below us almost surpasses the music. It’s the Fourth of July, the National Day for American Rachel. But for her, as for many of Seattle’s residents, it is Norway’s Constitution Day that really counts.
Rachel remember carrying a “ryggsekk” backpack, to school as a kid, which the other kids made fun of. Now, her Norwegian ancestry is only an advantage for the professional musician. “As a kid I’d rather not be different from the crowd, but now I’m glad I am just that,” she says.
Rachel has chosen the Hardanger fiddle as one of her key instruments, and the fact that she has Norwegian heritage with a Norwegian-sounding name gives her an extra advantage on stage: “People respect me more as a Hardanger fiddle musician because I have that background.”
In addition, she plays violin and viola. Rachel has toured in the United States, Norway, Kenya, and South Korea, and her fiddle tunes have also made their way into video games like Minecraft and Pode. Now she makes a living out of music, both as a performer and a teacher. Rachel has ancestors from both Denmark and Norway. The name Nesvig originates from the small village of Nesvik near Jøsenfjorden in Rogaland, the western part of Norway.
She grew up in Tacoma, Wash., saying she was lucky.
“We had many Norwegian traditions and heard a lot of Norwegian language. Every year we celebrated Christmas Eve, Syttende Mai, and ate traditional Norwegian food. I participated in folk dance and folk music classes.” As a child she was part of a Norwegian-American choir that had the chance to tour Norway. And as a 20-year-old, Rachel spent a year in Norway studying music at the University of Stavanger. Last year, she went on a tour with Norwegian Christmas music in Western Norway.
What are some things she likes about Norway?
“The obvious: nature! People’s energy, that you are not as stressed and worried. My impression is that people relax more, and complain less. The health system works. I like that you have a healthy weapon culture. And, you travel! Americans don’t really travel much. It is perhaps because we don’t have much time off, many just two weeks per year.”
Rachel misses Norway. She would like to live there. “Especially now, when we have a lot of political uncertainty in the United States. It’s not easy. I am raised more like a social democrat than most Americans. I must say I’m not always as proud of being American as I am of being Norwegian.”
Ingerid Jordal is a photojournalist based in western Norway, with a great passion for the deep north and stories of belonging. She is scared of flying, but not scared of driving backward on a highway in Seattle. Learn more at www.ingeridjordal.no.
To learn more about Rachel Nesvig, see also:
This article originally appeared in the July 12, 2019, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.