From the Mountain Farms to you
Ljom mixes cow calls with jazz, pop, and progressive folk for a unique experience
This is Norwegian jazz as you’ve never heard it before.
The ensemble Ljom (pronounced “Yoom”) was born in the remote Mountain Farms north of Trondheim, infused with historic “cow calls” that once rang out from the hilltops, and refined by classical training in New York.
Now the five-member group is gathering steam with a U.S. Midwest tour and a debut album, called “Seterkauk.” Ljom’s concert stops will include several American communities with high Norwegian-descendant populations, in Minnesota, North Dakota (where they perform at the Norsk Høstfest), and Illinois. Ljom’s hometown of Snåsa, Norway, was also the hometown of the founder of St. Olaf’s College, where the group played a concert.
Ljom’s founder and singer, Kjersti Kveli, was fascinated by the fast-disappearing tradition of the “kauks” (historic cow calls), which were used for calling in the cows or other farm animals—and also to communicate between neighbors and announce an impending visit.
Kveli explains that she started the group in 2013 as a means of preserving this tradition in a new way. A soprano who has studied Contemporary Performance at the Manhattan School of Music with the much-admired soprano Lucy Shelton, Kveli is able to sing the “kauks” in a stratospherically high register—above “high C”—and then drop a couple of octaves to her lower register. She can alternate the very high and low tones in a way that’s similar to yodeling, a trick that Kveli calls “a funny contrast that must be effective at getting the attention of the animals.” It’s quite a virtuoso accomplishment, and the music the Ljom members have composed around these “kauks” gives new life to a tradition that was in danger of extinction.
“I had a need to do something about the fact that the individuals who had these melodies in their memory were getting really old, and the melodies were in danger of simply vanishing,” Kveli says.
“I asked the others if they would like to do this project of collecting and developing these melodies into something new and fresh—something all generations can gather around.”
The group—including Sivert Skavlan (clarinet and cello), Anne Marte Eggen (bass), Nils Anderson (guitar), Tor Morten Kjøsnes (piano), as well as Kveli (vocals)—worked together to compose new songs (many with a jazzy twist) based on their research. Three of the Ljom members hail from Snåsa in Trøndelag, where the “kauks” originated.
One of the group’s promotional clips shows a visit by Kveli to a remote farm where Ingrid Seem, an older lady familiar with the kauk tradition, teaches her a melody in use on their family’s farm in the 1930s. Most of Ljom’s rediscoveries come from tips originating from long-ago visits to Mountain Farms, and melodies unearthed from earlier memories.
“That’s usually how this goes,” Kveli explains. “The source people don’t contact us directly, but someone will know about them having been on mountain farms as children, or having heard them talk about the kauks or something else. Sometimes they’re right, sometimes not. So we just visit people and talk to them, to learn more about how things were, and to record the actual melodies if they do remember. Mountain Farming is now a cultural live museum supported by the government, and a vital part of tourism in mountain regions.
“On this album,” continues Kveli, “the lyrics are communicating the hardship that was their reality when this type of farming was a necessary part of their survival—as it tends to be romanticized. Even doing it for tourism is really hard work, even with modern help, and if it wasn’t for the government’s support, it would be almost impossible to do what they do. It could possibly become one of Central Norway’s greatest gifts to tourists who visit, to learn about this way of life that was a reality in Norway not all that long ago. In Snåsa there are well over a dozen active Mountain Farms that accept visitors every summer.”
But you don’t have to go to Norway to hear Ljom: readers who live in the cities on the current tour (through Oct. 6) can experience live music from their “Seterkauk” album. All readers can also visit the group’s website (www.ljom.net), where you’ll find links to their music and their social media sites. Photos of the mountain farms can also be viewed at www.snasaseter.no.
“Our music is just the coming together of a lot of love for a lot of different sounds and types of music,” says Kveli. “There is jazz, rock, pop, and progressive folk in our mix … as well as a few crumbles of contemporary classical ideas. People hear so many wonderful things when listening to us—and we’re not the ones to limit that!”
This article originally appeared in the Oct. 3, 2014 issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (800) 305-0271.