Memories & music build cultural bridges

In an international family, music can be a thread to bind generations together

Photo: Lars Wanberg Traditional music was an integral part of this Voss wedding, the first such farm-to-church wedding seen in the area in generations. These are the sorts of sound-based memories that technology will help us to pass down through families.

Photo: Lars Wanberg
Traditional music was an integral part of this Voss wedding, the first such farm-to-church wedding seen in the area in generations. These are the sorts of sound-based memories that technology will help us to pass down through families.

Larrie Wanberg
Features Editor

As a Norwegian American, I first watched the 17th of May Parade from the curb of Karl Johans Gate in Oslo in 1958 as a Fulbrighter studying at the University of Oslo. The memories by year’s end included marrying a Norwegian Fulbrighter from Voss, who was studying at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, where I was teaching part-time. Together, we began a memorable life of teaching our four children the ideals of being a “Fulbright Family.”

Travel back to Norway became almost an annual event for many years. Sometimes we would escort some elderly Norwegian Americans on a reunion tour for the 17th of May with their relatives. At other times, we would travel at Christmastime to visit with maternal grandparents and experience dancing around the Christmas Tree, learning folk tales, and the excitement of a visit from the Julenisse with gifts for all the cousins.

Later as teenagers, our four kids spent time studying in folk school programs or host exchanges with relatives in Norway. They visited other countries independently during summer vacations. Travel was part of our family lifestyle.

In our home, music was always in the background from wall speakers and a Tandberg recording system imported from Norway. Music then and even today triggers a host of memories and brings them back to life.

With new technologies, the music from Norway—ranging from Grieg to familiar folk music—has never before been so appealing and enjoyable. Today, modern music from Scandinavia widens my horizons of digital sounds.

Growing up in a Norwegian-American parsonage in North Dakota decades ago, our home was filled with sacred music and hymns, but as I traveled with family to Norway, I became introduced to the Hardanger fiddle and its historical traditions.

Photo: Lars Wanberg

Photo: Lars Wanberg

Often called the national instrument of Norway, the Hardanger fiddle has four basic strings and four sympathetic strings underneath the fingerboard that add echoing to the tone and sound. This echoing sound can be sampled on the Hardanger Fiddle Association of America’s home page, with three generations of fiddle players—“first sample from of an old master, second sample from a living legend, and the third sample from a respected younger fiddler” (see

Dating back to the mid-1600s, the hardingfele is one of the few folk music traditions that continues nearly unchanged to the present day. Each instrument is a handmade work of art, with mother-of-pearl inlays and black pen-and-ink drawings.

When my nephew in Voss, a fiddler himself, got married in the summer of 2009, they arranged a traditional farm-to-church wedding procession with the bride on a fjord horse led by the groom, a fiddler playing the music, and a filing of relatives—all in the formal heritage dress of their communities. The likes of this authentic wedding procession had not been seen in Voss for many generations.

Today, with advanced sound technologies coming out of Scandinavia, a company in California is changing the way that high fidelity audio can be enjoyed in a home, a hotel lobby, a restaurant, or a wine tasting room. The basic business model is a wall-mounted digital TV screen and a price-matching fidelity sound distribution system that can be transferred to any digital device, such as a home TV, a tablet, or even a smart phone (see

“No other sound system on the market offers this unique and powerful transition between all your listening devises,” said Kenneth Persson, a Swedish-born engineer who has developed the best of American and European entrepreneurship from his business in Buellton, Calif.

Travel and hospitality will be the companion fields for rapid growth in 2016. Travel already has been impacted by the visual revolution in cell phone technologies—the selfies as one documents their travels and tourists on the Main Street of Solvang bumping into each other because of attention to the digital screen of a smart phone or iPad. The next revolution, in my estimation, will be in digital high-fidelity sound to complement the visual technologies.

Personally, I envision the sound system as enabling an armchair traveler in a home theater family application; my playlist would be the adventures as global citizens of my four children and nine grandchildren. To the imaginative ears of my soon-to-be nine great-grandchildren, I’d send bedtime fairytale-type digital storytelling, embellished from real-life family history.

Memories and music are intertwined and now with advanced audio technologies, music that links to cultural heritage preserves and sustains the memories into future generations of our extended family, stemming from the ideals of a Fulbright Family that originated four generations ago.

This article originally appeared in the May 6, 2016, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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Larrie Wanberg

Larrie Wanberg, 1920–2021, contributed features to The Norwegian American for many years, drawing on eight decades of life experience highlighted by three career recognitions: as a researcher through a Fulbright Scholarship to Norway in 1957; as a health care provider in behavioral science through a 27-year military career and awarded upon retirement in 1981 the highest non-combat medal, the Legion of Merit medal; as an educator, through a 50-year career in college education, culminating in the 2010 Public Scholar award at the UND Center for Community Engagement. Wanberg passed away in May, 2021.