Leading the way

Photo: www.rhkorps.net The Rø og Hurrød Skolekorps, based near Fredrikstad, is comprised of musicians and drill members.

Norwegian korps (bands) are an important part of 17th of May celebrations in Norway

By: Heidi Håvan Grosch

Just as in any small-town 4th of July parade in United (many older Norwegians, when speaking Norwegian, refer to the United States that way), no 17th of May parade would be complete without a school band (skolekorps) and or adult band (voksenkorps). So I asked Terje Stene, local band director and winner of the 2012 Trøndelag director of the year award for his thoughts.

Bands as we know them began in the 1850s in Prussia to showcase military music, and Norway quickly jumped on the bandwagon, forming amateur corps throughout the country (with men only). “At first the combinations of brass, woodwinds, keyboard and strings was mostly background for dancing or entertainment,” notes Stene. “It was a bit like the rise of Dixieland bands and jazz bands in the U.S. It wasn’t until after World War II that they began to march, and soon they became a part of the 17th of May festivities.” These bands also gave boys a chance to learn to play instruments, but it wasn’t until 1956 that girls were allowed to join. “It was around that time that school bands equaled musical education in Norway,” says Stene. “Local culture schools were established in the 1970s and 80s so that every municipality would have access to professional teachers, conductors and directors.”

The Norges Musikkorps Forbund (NMF / Norwegian Band Federation / www.spilleglede.no) was formed in 1918 and was the driving force behind the school band movement. Headquartered in Bergen and boasting 70,000 members in over 1,700 bands (His Royal Highness Crown Prince Haakon is their patron), NMF supports the bands with resources, conferences, and competitions. Today they are both the largest organization of amateur musicians and the largest cultural organization in Norway.

Today bands are an integral part of Norwegian culture; if you look at the number of bands per capita, Norway leads the way for the number of most active band musicians. It is only natural, then, that they welcome in Norway’s National Day each year whether in the raising of the flag, the singing of the national anthem or marching in the parade.

This article originally appeared in the May 11, 2012 issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (800) 305-0271.

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The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.