Molde bands and culture school alive

Sekken skolekorps celebrates its 40th anniversary

Sekken Skolekorps

Photo: Matt Barry
Sekken skolekorps celebrated its 40th anniversary in June.

Patricia Barry
Hopewell Junction, N.Y.

Sekken is an idyllic island in Romsdalsfjord, a 40-minute ferry ride from Molde in Møre og Romsdal. Seven square miles with less than 200 people, it is home to the Sekken skolekorps (school band), which celebrated a milestone 40th anniversary in June. 

Sekken skolekorps, like other Norwegian school bands and in contrast to the United States, exists outside of the public school. A board, currently headed by Ingjerd Jensen Gisetstad, oversees the band, including its funding and schedule. It is a mixed-generation band of 20+ musicians, school age and adults. All children on Sekken are invited to start in the band as aspiranter (new musicians), around third or fourth grade. 

The key to Sekken Skolekorp’s longevity

A supportive community has been key to Sekken skolekorps’ longevity. Gisetstad remarked, “The residents of Sekken have been very supportive of their band. Many in Sekken are proud that a band exists in our small community. The band is an important part of the May 17th and Christmas traditions and contributes to our sense of community. There wouldn’t be much of a gathering without the band.”

Gisetstad added, “Being a mixed-generation band is a crucial part of the band having existed for 40 years. Two members have been in the band since the beginning. Because our community is so small, there have been times when the band has consisted almost entirely of adults. It is during these times that the adults have kept the band alive.”

Sekken’s relationship with the kulturskole

Since 2003, Sekken skolekorps has hired a musical director from Molde kulturskole (culture school), who conducts the band, teaches lessons to students, and works with the board. For the past 10 years, U.S.-born Matt Barry, a low brass instructor at Molde kulturskole, has been the band’s musical director. Gisetstad said, “We have been very happy having Matt as our conductor. He is a true patriot for the community and band. We think it is cool that the little Sekken skolekorps has a conductor all the way from the United States.”

Gisetstad added, “Each spring the board leader, conductor, and culture school meet to plan for the upcoming season. It is primarily the conductor who plans the repertoire. Matt finds fitting music, with suggestions from band members.”

The band’s relationship with the culture school also opens up other opportunities. Rytmekorps (rhythm band) is a culture school offering for second graders—a recruitment tool to promote interest in music and bands. Sekken skolekorps has participated in Mestre, a seminar arranged by Molde Brass Band, an adult community band. Mestre is an important opportunity for the youth to participate in gatherings with other bands, said Gisetstad.

The culture school’s role

Molde kulturskole

Photo: John W. Barry
Molde kulturskole faculty toured the construction site of their new school in 2016 and sang for the construction workers. The new school is one example of Molde’s commitment to the culture school.

The culture school in Norway is an entity separate from public schools and with no direct comparison in the United States. Ingvild Aas, Molde kulturskole principal, explains their evolution. “Norwegian music schools were established voluntarily in some municipalities in the 1960s. Slowly, music schools were established across the country. The driving forces were typically leaders in the local amateur music scene or others that saw a need for instrument education to recruit musicians for bands and orchestras. Music schools changed to culture schools, expanding to include disciplines such as dance, visual arts, and theater. In 1997, the Norwegian education act required that all municipalities have a culture school, but there are no national regulations about how they are run.“

Molde kulturskole, established by the Molde Municipal Council, is an outgrowth of Molde musikkskole (music school) and today includes music, art, theater, and dance. Its students enroll in courses held outside of public school hours. Participants range from infant to high school to adult. Molde kulturskole has an agreement with Molde videregående skole (high school), where culture school staff teach musical performance classes. And, as mentioned, culture school instructors are hired by bands such as Sekken.

Municpality of Molde wins culture award

In some places, the culture school offering is minimal, but Molde has a strong commitment to its culture school due to a number of positive interactions. According to Aas:

• The culture school has good teachers and an administration that is always learning and evolving. This produces results that make the politicians proud, which makes them want to support the culture school.

• The culture school has a long tradition of working closely with the local amateur music scene, choirs, and bands, as evident in conductor contracts and the education of aspiranter. This is a win-win for all.

• The culture school works with primary schools, nursery schools, care centers, and others, using its expertise for purposes beyond vocational training. As a result, the culture school becomes an important resource for many institutions.

For these reasons, Aas believes, Molde received Norway’s Årets Kulturskolekommune (Culture School Municipality of the Year) award for 2019. This is awarded annually “to a municipality that, through its culture school activities, shows that it gives particularly high priority to its culture school’s offerings, at the same time acting as an exemplary model municipality for others” (www.kulturskoleradet.no/nyheter/2019/april/molde-arets-kulturskolekommune-2019).

The connection between Molde culture school and local bands

Molde kulturskole’s relationship with local bands such as Sekken skolekorps is unique. In most municipalities, there is no official connection and little or no contact between the bands and the culture school, but in Molde it’s quite the opposite. Local bands hire conductors from the culture school. Band members may take lessons from culture school faculty, either through the band or outside the band. This allows the conductors and instrumental teachers to work together. “This arrangement, for me, is what is most unique and what works best in Molde,” said Sekken conductor Barry.

Jens Kristian Mordal, Molde kulturskole instrumental teacher and conductor, commented, “The special thing when it comes to Molde kulturskole and bands, even by Norwegian standards, is that everyone who starts in the school bands automatically gets lessons with a teacher at the culture school, without any additional cost. A fantastic opportunity for the children!”

Also unique in Molde is the relationship between the conductors and the instrumental teachers in the culture school. Mordal, who conducts Kvam og Sellanrå skolekorps, has a close working relationship with other culture school teachers who are specialists on their instruments. He said, “It is nice to have the instrumental teachers as colleagues, since we can easily communicate about the challenges faced by each student. We can make sure that we provide the best possible instruction. As a conductor for bands in Molde, compared to bands I’ve conducted in other communities, I’ve noticed that basic musical skills are clearly better, and that students can focus more on ensemble playing.”

The culture school-band connection extends to the community. Mordal: “I conduct Molde Brass Band (MBB), an adult/amateur band that performs at a high national level. It is particularly fun to see youth from the school bands join MBB and grow with more challenging musical parts.”

The culture school, local bands, and support from the community are thriving in Molde. Sekken skolekorps’ celebration of its 40th anniversary and the national recognition of Molde’s commitment to culture and its culture school are a testament to this fact.

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.

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